In Fictorum, you are hellbent on destroying those who have wronged you and destroyed all that remains of your order. From humble beginnings wielding a single spell to having complete mastery over numerous upgraded spells and imbued rings, the path you chart through the dangerous mountains will determine if your ultimate goal can or will be obtained. Screaming Bottom Games' spell-wielding adventure is sure to make you giggle like a school girl, if only briefly, with its wanton destruction.
Fictorum can be found on Steam available August 9.
While the overall storyline of the game is to avenge the destruction of your brother Fictorum (you are the last one alive) at the hands of the Inquisition, the means to get there is much like a choose your own adventure book from the 90's. Each chapter is a map of a mountain range extending above the miasma storms that have taken over the lands below. The map and the attached events for each mountain are randomly generated when you start the chapter. While on the surface this sounds like an awesome idea, which it is to some extent, after a few hours you will slowly come to realize, as with most randomly generated games, patterns emerge.
In some playthroughs/chapters, you can jump to every single mountain and never see the same map or event again. However, you are more than likely to have several of the same ones, even back to back. Now, I understand that randomly generated is just that, random, but you could ensure that there weren't duplicate missions/areas so close together. Understandably, this would require more coding and is time-consuming, but it perhaps should have been something to be considered. I won't decry "my immersion!" about this, but it did cause a little hiccup when playing.
My absolute favorite part about the storytelling was the multiple choices faced on some events. While most were a simple "continue story" because you ran into bandits, many of them gave you the option of what you wanted to do. Running across a newly orphaned child, clutching their dead mother's hand, you are given three choices; give the child some coins, take the child to an inn, or just leave the child to grieve. High on the mountain top, in the driving snow, it would have been easy to just say let the child die, seeing as you are being hunted by the Inquisition. I decided to take the child to an Inn, where I was prompted with two more choices; make sure she got inside the door or go in with her to make sure she found someone to help her. Of course I am going to make sure she is alright! This rewarded me with some essence and let me rest up for free, regaining valuable hit points.
When the story progresses to new lands and adventures, the story is wonderful and my mind starts to get wrapped up in what is going on, but once I hit that dreaded double event or map, it was hard to get my imagination going again.
For the longest time, I have wanted a game that relied purely on using magic, but also let you build or shape your spells for the varying needs. I have also wanted games where you can destroy anything and everything in sight. That is essentially what we have in Fictorum. Despite my inner child bubbling to the surface, I had to go into this game with a level head so I didn't get Oooo'd and Ahhhh'd into missing vital gameplay mechanics.
When you create a character, you are given the standards (hair color, eye color, skin color, head attachment) and then the type of Fictorum you will be; Firebrand, Tempest, or Ice-Bound. Now, these are not the only titles you can be (which also give you the correlating spell), but they are locked at first. I assume you unlock the others after you beat the game, which unfortunately I have been unable to do, as much as I have tried. You are granted four spell slots and two secondary slots where spells that are imbued on rings go. Each spell can hold three runes, of varying rarity and restrictions, that make up the spell-shaping mechanic. Want further distance, multiple shots, and persistent fire? You can have it, as long as you can find the right runes. Just hold the right mouse button and an overlay appears, while slowing time to a near crawl, and you can select which runes to put more power into. Be careful though, holding a spell longer and shaping costs mana over time. Run out of mana, and it starts to take your health!
After loading into a chapter, you can see a glowing red beacon on the right most side, the Nexus, which will lead you to the next chapter. Taking the time to plot the best/fastest route is how I played at first, but hitting up an additional mountain or two might be a little more strategic. When you land on a mountain top and get an event that requires you to fight something (Bandits or Corrupted) you are dropped into a map and this is the gravy to the potatoes that is the story. Cause nobody likes plain potatoes, right?
Making your way through a level gives you many different options to dispatch the enemies. Sometimes the best way is to just duke it out in the most straight forward manner you can, flinging spells until you have vanquished them all. However, since the buildings are fully destructible (more on this in a bit), you can try to trap your enemies between two buildings and then let the rubble crush them. Perhaps there is a bridge they are using to get across a valley. Blow the damn thing up and watch flesh and stone explode in the air while the hilarious ragdoll physics take over. One fun thing I liked to do if I had the telekinesis spell, was to wait for a bandit to get close, grab him with my mind, then fling him as high and far as possible. I must have giggled for a straight twenty minutes when I found this out, as enemy after enemy flew into the air and down into the miasma.
Now we get to the fully destructible buildings. While I would normally put that in quotation marks, that would hint that there is no such thing. I guess an asterisk would be more fitting. Every building you come across has a fully realized interior with bookshelves, tables, beds, candles, and numerous other little trinkets. Entering a building can be done by just walking through the door (or the more fun way of blasting it open with magic) automatically puts you into first person view so you can loot anything that has a nice sparkling animation on it. These sparkles will be differently colored to inform you the rarity of the item inside, which can be a spellbook, scroll, or equipment. Once you are done looting a building, or if you don't like the particular way a building is looking at you, send a spell its way and watch the roof explode off it. Send a few more towards the wall and it will eventually crumble down. However, the stuff on the inside remains untouched unless you specifically target them. The bits and pieces that were once a wall or roof do eventually vanish and it can look quite funny (not in a good way) to see the interior preserved perfectly after bombarding it with meteors.
There was an update put into place in the middle of one of my playthroughs that gave you essence when you destroyed a building you hadn't looted, which happens more than you would hope for. While this was nice, it did tend to give me the "I don't care if I destroy that building now" mentality. The essence is a nice consolation prize, seeing as you use that to enchant your spells, imbue your rings with scrolls, or heal yourself at vendors. I found that given the option of blowing a house up to kill that tough enemy instead of luring him away or sniping him, I would just blow up the house and damned be the loot. With the preservation of the interior, it would make more sense to still be able to loot items. But doing this will make you miss a lot of potential gear and spells you might not be able to find elsewhere. It is a fair trade off though for mass murdering innocent houses.
All this is done while the enemies relentlessly throw themselves at you, sometimes literally. The melee ones will just run at you in as straight a line as they can, no tactics or thinking involved. While fun for a little bit with a piercing Ice Bolt, later it tends to detract from what could have been a better system. Even at the higher difficulties, they don't get any smarter, there are just more of them and they run a hell of a lot faster (again, more on this later). Any magic wielders you come across will almost always stand still to fling spells at you, which are easily dodged. The only ones I had trouble with on Normal difficulty where the large three-horned corrupted spell-slingers. They get danger close, could take numerous shots of your most powerful spell, and shoot not one, not two, but three exploding balls that would do at least a little damage.
This article wouldn't be complete without talking about the difficulty of the game. At the beginning, you can choose between Reese Mode, which is apparently for those who are terrible at video games, all the way to Nightmare. I started at Normal and had a fairly easy time getting through to Chapter 5 where the enemies decided to take speed and obtained Quad Damage from Quake. Even with your blink ability, you couldn't outrun the melee dudes and would be in a constant blink fest just to keep from taking damage. Throw in javelin dudes and three or four times more enemies, and it was just a mad dash to the portals, damned be any loot or killing. For shits and giggles, I loaded up a game in Nightmare mode and take what I just described to you and double that…in the first level. I understand making a game difficult, but between the uber speedsters stuck to you like glue, javelins you couldn't see until they were stuck in your body, and the spells bombarding you, I just don't understand how you are supposed to survive the first level. Now, if there was a better way to heal yourself other than the rare potion in a house or resting at a location, not to mention the progressively more expensive heals from a vendor (Chapter 7 on Normal it was up to 306 essence for a full heal) , I would just say "Git Gud Scrub." All this pales in comparison to when/if the Inquisition catch up with you. You are absolutely unable to kill everyone, as more just teleport in, replacing those you killed not five seconds ago. There are packs of five or six that make up a spawn point, but there have been up to ten packs on a single map. I tried this once and said "Nope!" after narrowly escaping into the portal. I thought there might possibly be better rewards for such heroic actions but was met with a paltry ten essence and a P.O.S. chest piece after killing close to thirty opponents.
Fictorum is an Indie game, and that is evident in the graphical and audio portions of the game. Dated would be a great term for the looks of the overall game, with some shining moments. Spells look and sound good, not great, but good. Characters, enemies, animations, and landscapes all look straight outta the mid-2000s. This is not necessarily a negative, but something you will have to overlook if you don't like hard edges to your hills and person. As far as I could find, this is Scraping Bottom Games' first game, made by two guys. So nitpicking about the graphics and sound might be a little much, but with other small team games such as Banished or Dust: An Elysian Tale, both one man studios, some are bound to not let this slide. Me, I can look past some dated graphics and generic sounds if I enjoy the core of the game.
There is something oddly enjoyable about Fictorum that I can't quite put my finger on. While I do like the spellcasting and shaping, the exploding buildings, choose-your-own-story style events, and playing with ragdolls more than I probably should, the poor AI, insane difficulty at later levels and so-so controls leave me wanting more. I hope the developers continue to work on this game and release some updates to make the AI more like what we are used to seeing these days. Regardless, if you have been looking for a 3d Magicka, this game comes as close to that as I think we will see for some time. Plus, exploding buildings!
|+ Great spell caster gameplay||– Duplicate events back-to-back|
|+ Destructible buildings||– Poor AI|
|+ Choose-your-own-story events||– Dated Graphics and Sound|
|+ Customizable spells and equipment||– Later/Higher difficulties don't scale well|
|– Healing seems like a punishment at times|