Gift of Parthax is a 2D, top-down, wizard arena fighter, and presents a bit of a mixed bag. The game gets some things right and can provide the player with good moments. In particular, Parthax does well when it comes to its graphical presentation, a selection of its sound design, and certain gameplay elements. It, unfortunately, falls flat in places due to some design choices, which can lead to confusing and frustrating experiences.
The story is short and simplistic here, which is all laid out via an introductory storybook when a new game is started. In the fictional kingdom of Duredyll, a land inhabited by magic and non-magic users, a civil war has broken out amongst the two groups. The protagonist, a young wizard named Arif, tries to escape the war with his friend Veleus. Unfortunately, the two find themselves captured by agents of Duredyll and are thrown into the dungeons with all the other mages who tried to flee during the civil war.
Veleus is then sentenced to fight to the death in a wizard gladiatorial match, held in the grand arena of Atixa. During his match, he sustains severe injuries and goes into critical condition, and word of this eventually makes its way to Arif, who grieves over the news. He breaks out of his prison and travels to the town of Atixa where these gladiator matches are held, determined to topple any opponent and claim the title of champion. Should he be successful, Arif will receive the “champion’s gift”, which should be able to save Veleus.
Parthax consists of conquering increasingly difficult arena matches using your magical powers. There are five different “season” arenas that must be beaten: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Blood Moon. Each season has four challenge matches to beat, and each match has varying numbers of enemy waves. Beat all the waves and the match is won. Beat the four matches of a season and you’ll move on to fight in the boss match of that season. Beat the boss and you’ll move on to the next season to repeat the process.
When you win a match for the first time, you’ll learn a new spell to use for future matches. Parthax offers many different spells, which vary in their spell type and elemental type. Spell types include projectile, trap, spawn, follower, pulse, and strike. Elemental types consist of fire, earth, arcane, frost, and blood/light.
You start off with nothing but a simple fireball spell, but soon enough you’ll gain access to magical spike traps, a snake companion summon, meteors, and lightning. The player also has a dodge ability which can be used to dash forward in a straight line to briefly avoid taking damage.
Money is dropped from downed foes which may be used to purchase health potions, mana potions, and runes from the shop. These runes are used to augment your spells in different ways, such as making your projectiles split off into more projectiles, extending the duration of summons, or doubling the power of your traps.
Along with these regular spells are rarer, more powerful spells called archspells. These are earned by defeating each season’s boss. They must be charged before being used, which is done by killing enemies in the arena. Once enough enemies are slain, the spell may be used. Unlike your standard spells, archspells may not be augmented with runes. You will generally only get one or two opportunities per match to use these spells since there are only so many enemies you encounter per match.
The first two seasons are straightforward. You likely should not find any great difficulty in these matches. In fact, I didn’t die a single time nor did I ever need to pop a health or mana potion. I may have had a few somewhat close scrapes, but nothing overbearing. I proceeded to beat the Summer boss and prepared to move on to the Fall arena.
This is where things started to break down for me in my playthrough.
The beginning of the Fall
I think I managed to beat the first Fall match, no problem. But come the second match, I actually died for the first time. I was absolutely steamrolled. Then I died again. And again. And again. Even got a few Steam achievements for it and everything. “But what’s changed? What am I doing wrong?” I thought. I kept trying to beat the match until I guessed that maybe I just need to get some additional runes and improve my spells to move forward.
So I took to grinding the earlier arenas until I got my hands on some new runes. Except, judging by the descriptions of the runes, none of them outright made a spell more powerful. It seemed like nothing I bought would directly help too much, at least not in the way I needed.
But lo and behold, after grinding I managed to get past the remaining Fall matches. The thing is, it didn’t feel like the runes played too much of a part in why I was victorious at last. After a little while and one or two epiphanies, I finally worked out why I was having such a hard time initially.
After every completed match, an innocent, unassuming message pops up to tell you how much knowledge you gained. I would keep seeing this but wasn’t entirely sure what the purpose of knowledge was. I began to glaze over it after every match, probably assuming I would be told of its use when it became important.
Turns out, funny thing, that knowledge acts as experience points. Without enough knowledge, you simply won’t be powerful enough to beat later arenas. And of course, that's a perfectly fine concept. Getting experience to level up is the most common game mechanic there is. The problem is that Parthax never told me that knowledge was experience points. And this denotes one of my biggest issues with the game: ambiguity and poor user feedback.
Simply, there are many things Parthax either doesn’t tell you about or does so in a crude way. Not explaining the concept of knowledge and player leveling is one example. I also didn’t know until much later on that you can stack multiple copies of the same rune onto a spell, which can have some drastic (and entertaining) effects. That mechanic was also not explained to me; The only way I figured it out was by reading through the Steam achievements. That achievement has you add four of the same rune to a spell, and when I saw that I thought, “Wait what? You can do that?” And indeed, you can. However, in the case of the Volley rune, if you apply multiple copies of it the spell will actually cost you more mana. This is also not explained to the player.
There are also issues concerning user feedback, which include certain spell hitboxes that feel off, sound effects that don’t sound right or are seemingly missing altogether, some spells or runes not working as described, and some archspells just not feeling like the powerhouse spells they’re meant to be.
Winter is coming…oh wait. Never mind.
What really wound up breaking me was the Fall boss fight, my last challenge before moving on to the Winter arena. Considering my recent success getting past the other Fall challenges, I thought the boss wouldn’t present too much of a challenge. And that was correct for the most part, until I reached the boss’ final stage, wherein you are sucked into the arena’s center and bombarded with spikes and monster tentacles and die within seconds. After throwing myself at the boss countless times trying to figure out how to get past this phase, I just didn’t understand what I was to do. And here we see the concept of ambiguity creeping back in.
Was I not powerful enough? Was this phase a test of endurance perhaps? If I wasn’t powerful enough, well, I have no frame of reference as to what degree that was the case. When you gain knowledge, it isn’t stored anywhere for you to see. There are no levels, stats, or an experience progress bar. These things definitely exist and are calculated in the background, because every time you level you gain increased health, mana, and magic damage. I only know this because that is what’s posted on the Steam store page.
So these stats and numbers do exist, they just aren’t displayed anywhere for you to see and observe. The only indication that you are making progression is via the after-match messages. As I mentioned, these inform you of how much knowledge you earned. If you have earned enough total knowledge, you will receive another message that says: "Mind expanded". This means that your character has gained a level and now has increased stats.
I thought this message always displayed after a match, not solely when you had enough knowledge saved up. Because of that, I didn’t even know there were actual levels for a while. I was under the impression that knowledge was sort of just cumulative and that the more you had, the more of a multiplier you received to your stats.
Not having access to my stats means I can’t really gauge my character’s power and capabilities. All I can do is just know that I am in fact leveling up, and that secret numbers in the background are making me a more powerful wizard. It's also frustrating that the concepts of knowledge and leveling are not in the game's tutorial. I only figured it out based on conjecture after playing for a while, and because of information from Parthax's Steam page.
But maybe power wasn't the issue with this boss fight. Maybe I needed to use a specific spell? A previous part of the fight required using a certain spell, so perhaps the same must be done here. What’s a little frustrating about that is that the boss fights from the other seasons didn’t have puzzle-like elements such as this one, so I hadn't been
conditioned to be in that kind of mindset.
But looking past that, trying to figure out what spell to use here is difficult. In the panicked, chaotic frenzy of the final phase, there isn’t much time before your health is sapped away. The screen also becomes very cluttered between the boss, the enemies
he spawns, an array of magic attacks, your character, and your own health numbers flying in your face, all of it converging around the same point.
Even if I could get a spell off in this absolute mess, there wouldn't be much telling whether it had any sort of effect on the boss or not. Also, you can only equip four spells at once, and getting to this phase of the boss takes time, which makes experimenting with different spells a bit of a nightmare.
Or maybe my problems with this boss stem from some kind of bug or glitch, something completely out of my control, thus preventing me from completing the fight? Gift of Parthax isn’t rife with glitches, but it’s certainly possible something about the fight just wasn't working.
I know that at least some glitches exist because ultimately I did wind up…um…”beating” this boss, but only because of an incredibly specific and lucky glitch wherein the boss never entered his final phase. He stopped just before that and graciously allowed me to finish him off. How nice. And thank goodness, because all that fruitless work to overcome this boss made me want to stop playing the game a few times. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, and given the track record of this game, it's possible that what I was meant to do was unclear or not expressed in the best way.
The good of Parthax
Despite my many gripes, I truly did have some enjoyable moments with Gift of Parthax. There was at least one occasion where because of some tricky enemies I was up against in the current arena, I had to take a step back and strategize my attack plan a little bit. Rather than just go in with whatever, I had to think about what tools were available to me, which was refreshing.
Once I was aware that the same rune could be applied multiple times to a spell, it was fun to experiment with that. For instance, adding the “additional projectile” rune would split the spell into multiple projectiles for a shotgun sort of effect. That is immediately entertaining because it takes what was normal and augments it to be a little ridiculous. More of that would have been great, as well as making it far more transparent that such a thing was even possible to do in the first place.
I also had a nice moment of customizing my spells for different purposes. I put together a fireball that acted as my low-cost spell that had a high chance to pierce through enemies, whereas my magma ball was my multi-shot heavy-hitter with just a slight pierce chance. I felt myself really getting into planning things out like this and I looked forward to trying out my customized spells. I just wish there had been more of that far earlier on.
Graphics & Audio
When comparing Parthax's mechanical design to its art direction, you'll see a sharp contrast. This game is actually quite pleasing to the eye, even downright beautiful sometimes. Just look here at his loading screen before an arena match:
Despite the number of mechanical hiccups I came across, you can see that care and attention were put towards this game’s development. This shines through in Parthax's
design of its characters, monsters, arena environments, spell effects, and even in the art for its loading screens. Parthax really looks the part, which is why it’s a shame how some of its mechanics and other design choices don’t completely rise up to meet this bar.
The audio quality varies. Each arena has its own dramatic background theme playing as you fight waves of monsters, and even the hub area comes with a nice track to get you into the medieval wizarding mood. I haven’t managed to get tired of it despite always hearing it upon returning to the hub after each arena match, and that’s a good sign.
The problem I did have with the audio was feeling like some sound effects were completely absent. For example, one spell you can learn has you throw down a powerful lightning bolt. You would think that such an incredible force of nature would come down with a wicked, shattering CRACK as it strikes the earth in the blink of an eye, laying waste to those poor souls who find themselves targeted by it.
Upon casting it, however, you’ll find that the lightning bolts are nearly dead silent, and that just feels a little bit anti-climactic and disappointing. Originally, I had thought there was no sound whatsoever. While writing this review I decided to double check if lightning really had no sound. I discovered that lightning actually does make a sound, it’s just very quiet and was easily overshadowed by the far louder background music. Some spells experience the same issue, while others are perhaps loud enough, but have a sound that doesn’t match up well with what is being cast.
This gets back to my previous point about the quality/lack of user feedback in some cases. Sound matters just as much as the mechanical and artistic design. So when you expect audio feedback for a spell and you either get nothing (seemingly), or something that doesn’t sound quite right, it just falls a little flat.
Some spells get it right, such as the magma shot. It sounds off sharply when cast, and you can hear the crumbling of rock and debris as it flies through the air. This spell has great “texture” to it and feels satisfying to use. Most importantly, it plays louder than the music so that it can be heard. The fact that throwing some hot rocks around is louder than lightning is a little strange, and partially why lightning doesn’t feel as satisfying. I mentioned mostly spell sounds here, but there are some similar problems with other types of sound in the game as well.
All in all, what we have with a Gift of Parthax is a game with good potential at its core, wrapped up in some frustrating design choices that sometimes lend to an ambiguous, confusing experience with poor user feedback. In some cases, the only way to learn about Parthax's basic mechanics is to go look at its Steam store page or its achievement list. Among other things, this took away from the overall experience for me. I had my share of good moments with Parthax, notably when I strategized how to best tackle a specific arena challenge using my spells, or when I messed around with rune configurations to make customized spells that served different purposes in battle. Unfortunately, it’s still just a little rough around the edges and in need of some polish to bring it all together into the best version of itself.
|+ Beautiful art design||– Certain core mechanics never introduced or explained. The overall theme of ambiguity|
|+ Great soundtrack||– Instances of poor user feedback (poorly implemented sound effects, hitboxes that are off, etc.)|
|+ Provides some moments of challenge and the need to strategize||– Lacking polish in some respects|
|– Potential for confusing/frustrating experiences due to above points|