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RPG Codex Review: Driftmoon

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RPG Codex Review: Driftmoon

Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Fri 1 March 2013, 18:50:10

Tags: Driftmoon; Instant Kingdom

[Written by Haba]

Family visits. You know how it always goes. All those nagging little hints that subtly point at your failures in life: "Your YOUNGEST cousin just got married this week..." or "Weston, the neighbour's son has now been promoted to captain in the Royal Guard. His parents are SO proud of him..." None of that sort in this family. Before you even have the chance to greet your mom, the old hag decides to push you down into a well. Wasn't that old tradition reserved to only unwanted newborns? You know, for the little mishaps that result from visiting the village priest or when your brother drinks just a bit too much mead?

Conveniently the well just happens to have a secret door that leads back to topside. As you return, fuming at the audacity of your infanticidal parent, you find out that the entire village decided to get stoned while you were away... literally. Big bad evil, quest for your missing father – a middle aged guy, and a bearded paedophile who urges you to find his missing "magical jewellery"... It is just another day in the life of an RPG protagonist.

Our father, the middle-aged guy

What, No Kickstarter?

Instant Kingdom (also know as Ville Mönkkönen) has just finally released their light RPG magnum opus, Driftmoon. Those familiar with Mönkkönen's earlier games, most notably Notrium and Magebane 2, will instantly recognize the style. While the older games of his were more contained hobby productions, Driftmoon is a full blown RPG. Starting as a hobby project in 2005, Instant Kingdom's latest title has grown into a full time production, thanks to the generous support of the tax payers of the Socialist Decadent Utopia of Finland.

And the time invested in the game clearly shows. While the certain characteristic quirks of Mönkkönen's previous releases are still clearly present in the game, other areas are well polished. One area that has seen particular improvement is the writing, which is mainly the handwork of Ville's wife Anne. Don't expect flashy cinematics or expensive voice acting – the game is still very much the result of one man's work. But the years of development and fine tuning have certainly created an end result that is rich in both detail and scope. So what kind of an offspring have the eight years of attention by the loving developers brought to us?

Melcar isn't the only one who has trouble with magical hoes

Ancient Evils Incorporated

I'll have to be honest with you – the opening moments of the game had me pulling my hair already. You start in the village with your mother petrified along with most of the villagers. An Ancient Evil™ has struck, looking for magical artefacts of power. Apparently you and your brother are the foretold Chosen Ones™, the only ones who can stop the Ancient Evil™. Never have heard that one before, eh?

Well, the underwhelming introduction is soon overshadowed by the flavour of the writing. Evil reanimated hands, bogeymen, time travel, explosive barrels that pretend to be damsels in distress... and heroes who spend most of their time in the hunt for the elusive goldfish – instead of focusing on saving the world. The game does not take itself too seriously. Think of Quest for Glory or Frayed Knights.

Once you can realign yourself to accept the game for what it is, the remainder of the journey becomes much more enjoyable.

At least the lore is better than in Skyrim

All Dressed up but No d6 to Roll

Even though the game wears the flayed skin of a full blown RPG, the mechanics present are extremely thin. You don't truly create a character at character generation, the only thing you get to decide is the name of your male character and the difficulty level you wish to play on. While the game does have attributes and traits you get to pick and improve at level up, they are largely cosmetic. The main purpose of the RPG elements is to make you more efficient in combat. There are apparently some dialogue options that you can't get without sufficiently high stats, but otherwise the RPG elements are largely superficial.

One of the main worries many had about the game was the combat. Real-time hack 'n slash with pause, spiced with special abilities on cool down certainly won no hearts here at the Codex. And those doubts were certainly warranted. Combat is pretty much a mildly annoying slowdown for any half competent cRPG veteran. This is a shame, since the game has all the building blocks of a "real" role-playing game.

Taking screenshots from combat was tricky, as my munchkin character kills everything in seconds

On paper we have it all: party members you can manage, melee, ranged attacks, magic, proper inventory management, magical loot and alchemy. Unfortunately the game is clearly not built with challenging combat in mind. Even with the most challenging difficulty level, you'll be able to win your fights barely breaking a sweat. The few deaths I got came from me ignoring my poisoned status and stubbornly saving my healing potions for the tough fight that never really came.

Increasing the difficulty gives you fewer attribute points to start with and makes the enemies stronger. The combat is still rather easily cheeseable, should you decide to exploit the system. The whirlwind attack talent, for example, is followed with improved whirlwind attack that does more damage and stuns the enemy. Funnily enough, you can use both the old whirlwind and the new improved skill separately, giving you a set of attacks that kills most of the softer enemies in seconds.

It's been a while since I've seen an RPG where you can equip something in the... uh... nose slot

Ranged attacks are mostly worthless, since they consume ammo and by default are rather inaccurate. After allocating three talent points in archery trait you'll become much more accurate, but several enemies that reflect ranged attacks will make your life miserable. Funnily enough you basically start the game with a shield that also reflects ranged attacks, creating absurd kind of Pong mini game in ranged combat.

In general, the old habits of the veteran gamers are more of a hindrance to the enjoyment of the game. My maniac hoarding habits left me with thousand excess gold coins and dozens of unspent potions. You'll get better mileage if you accept the fact that the game is designed to be a smooth, enjoyable ride. Every new gear item you get is an upgrade, many of them having unique effects or skills. Ring of Megalomania that gives great boosts but makes you spout random one-liners that drive your party members insane being probably the most memorable one.

Why the Goldfish gave magical powers, no one really knew...

Excuse Me Sir. I am Looking For a Hidden Fish

So if not combat and character development, what does the game really has to offer? Pixel hunts, for one. The game locations are filled with items you can interact with, hidden treasures and secrets. Crafting ingredients, gold, attribute increasing bonuses... There is a tonne of stuff for those with the obsessive compulsive hoarding habit.

Besides hunting for material, you also obtain a wealth of information. Despite the tongue-in-cheek approach of the game, it is by no means a joke. The in-game lore is well fleshed out, with monster encyclopaedias, small stories and item descriptions.

The real meat of the game is the adventure. Almost every character has something to say; even most of the sentient enemies can be heard grumbling about their miserable duty. Quite surprisingly, the myriad of different followers you recruit on your journeys are quite reactive to the things that happen around them. Sometimes the wealth of one-liners even gets tiresome. Overall the dialogue is well written, even if a bit too simplistic. There are dialogue trees, and occasional choices that lead to a different outcome.

It is totally possible to avoid combat in Driftmoon

Apart from sending you in the harm's way, the quests in the game also makes you flex your brain muscle by solving puzzles. The game has several different kinds of traditional puzzles, ranging from physic-related ones to mazes and riddles. None of the puzzles are too difficult or frustrating, seeming to be aimed for a less experienced adventurer. Each puzzle is a little bit different from the previous one, which helps to keep the game fresh and interesting.

The game even manages to poke fun at the abundance of puzzles in its locales. It was particularly memorably when it made you solve a tiny maze puzzle... only to follow it up with a three times bigger version right away.

A puzzle. Quite literally

Love from the First Dialogue Line

Technically Driftmoon is of excellent quality. Even though the textures are poor and the occasional lack of animations can be a bit jarring, the game looks and sounds good. The engine comes with lightning effects, physics with intractable objects, day and night changes, auto-saves, a journal, and a convenient auto-mapping system with quick travel. I got well over 15 hours of playtime out of the game, with absolutely no bugs or glitches.

The story wasn't a big turn-on for me. It just kind of happens in the background and only becomes dominant in the rather abrupt ending portion of the game. The Fallout-reminiscent ending slides that detail the lives of the characters you have influenced throughout the game highlight how little the importance of the main storyline actually is compared to the minor characters and their quests.

Probably the most difficult moral choice in the whole game. I just couldn't do it

Even more worryingly, the developers have chosen to follow the Biowarian School in choices and consequences. The game has a karma system and multiple endings based on your actions during the game, but unfortunately the choices are extremely binary: you can choose to ignore the side quests by acting like an asshole and getting people killed, but that simply makes you miss a few lines of dialogue at the end and one ending slide. The final decisions for the ending are all made within the last 15 minutes of the game. Roleplaying-wise the worst design choice was the forced romance addition. Having your character fall head over heels in love with someone who you have just met is quite jarring, to say the least. Thankfully you can skip this romance through dialogue choices.

What? Not even a fade to black scene?

The Verdict

Despite its shortcomings, would I recommend the game for anyone? To much of my own surprise, I find myself saying "yes". Driftmoon has a certain flavour to it. In a way, the magical journey you undertake reminds me of those good-hearted children's fables. And maybe that is where the real target group of the game exists. This would be a good introductory RPG for younger players. Maybe something you'd make your own children play, in the hopes that they'd turn out less fucked up than you did.

The game certainly has something to offer for mature audiences as well, presuming that you go in with the right set of expectations. Building a game of this scale with a two person team is no small feat. I am especially looking forward to seeing what kind of results the community will be able to produce with the rich modding tools the game comes with.

If you doubt your ability to stomach simple light-hearted fun with no gritty grim dark dressing, give the demo a go. Who knows, maybe you'll rediscover your inner child. And if that doesn't work out... you can always find a well...

The full version of the game is on sale today at $11.99. There is also a large demo available at the developer's site.

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