Signs of Darkness Preview

What do you get when you mix the bugs of the Elder Scrolls series, the narrative and music of an old DOS RPG, and the useless minigame of The Witcher 3? Something that you should steer far, far away from. Early Access isn't enough armor to protect this game from it's glaring flaws. What will it take to salvage this action RPG?

Signs of Darkness Preview

Intro

I don't envy the job of an indy game developer, especially on PC.  You spend tons of time and effort on something hoping it will stand out enough to be a gold nugget in a river of garbage.  So in a way I feel bad for Press Pause Games, because to try and forge a new path in RPGs is pretty much a moot point. However, to say that Signs of Darkness is an unplayable mess at this point is an understatement. Everything the game does right, other games have done better.  The combat is like Dark Souls if Dark Souls just drank a prozac and quaalude smoothie.  The map is like Skyrim if you were completely unable to navigate.  Say what you will about Gwent, at least those matches didn't go on for an hour.  The bugs made it impossible for me to make significant headway in the story, and the box standard story didn't make me feel like I was really missing out on much. 

So yeah, as you could tell I'm not exactly going to fondly look back on my time with Signs of Darkness.  I've been raised with RPGs, my bar is high.  This game is in Early Access, but that's no excuse.  If you're going to sell a game, at least make it functional.  The price tag is too steep for what you're currently getting.  I'm not going to say there's no way it can be salvaged, but Press Pause Games didn't exactly strike a good tone with me at this stage of development..

Signs of Darkness is available on Steam for $19.99.

Signs of Darkness Preview, ever dodged so hard you clipped into your enemy?

Story

You wake up in a pit with a not-khajiit waking you and telling you that you were some sort of wizard's apprentice and you got dumped in there with amnesia.  Ah, the ol' Elder Scrolls special, imprisoned for a crime you can't recall.  You get out of the pit distressingly easy, and the rest is a mess of side quests and a royal assassination.  I can't say much definitively about the story because, for reasons I'll divulge shortly, I wasn't able to really make any headway.  That said, the missions I kept trying to do, such as raiding a bandit cave and slaying a monster that stole a wizard's staff, didn't really strike me as that different.  I did miss out on a lot of the story with the game being nigh-unplayable at the current stage of development, but the game didn't really set itself up to make me feel like that was any sort of loss.

Signs of Darkness Preview, and the award for flunkies exposition goes to...

gameplay

The gameplay is theoretically a Dark Souls-ed up Skyrim, with the large, roaming map and the dodge roll based combat.  You have four quick buttons for potions and spells to cast mid-combat and you have to manage your health, magic power, and stamina in order to be the most effective. I played a little on controller and a little on keyboard and I can say that the game's recommendation of using the controller is apt.   The whole formula is tried and true and doesn't do much different aside from the glaring issues currently in the game.

No World Map

Yeah, it's an open world RPG with no world map.  Not even one that's revealed as you travel.  You travel by people leaving maps on your compass that tell you the direction you need to go, but not the distance. When I went to the bandit cave that wasn't much of an issue, that was an acceptable method, but when I had to fetch something from a monster for this wizard I kept going on and on for fifteen minutes until my game bugged out and I had to restart.  At another point in time I didn't even get a marker to find the graveyard and I just kept wandering around until my game bugged out and I had to restart (seeing a pattern here?).  What would make this method more palatable is if the town was a bit easier to navigate, or perhaps a it more compact.  From the beginning of my time with this game to the end I had no idea where I was or where I was going.

Not to come back to Skyrim, but that's the most obvious comparison; imagine if, when you had to first go to High Hrothgar it just told you the direction, not that you had to go to the other side of the mountains to find stairs, so you just kept jumping trying to find your footholds to get up.  That's this game, except to it's credit you can run up a near flat wall with perfect ease so maybe that balances out.

Signs of Darkness Preview, like the mighty mountain goat.

Hey kid, ya wanna play HeroScape?

Give Gwent some credit, at least the games tended to be blissfully short when The Witcher 3 shoehorned them in (at least in my experience).  Also, the further you got in the game the more you could do in the minigame.  I can't even remember name of the strategy minigame Signs of Darkness put in there, but it's a hex-based strategy game that isn't complex enough to be Civ-adjacent.  It's a bad sign when the minigame is the best part of your actual game, but the match I played went on for way too long and it was pretty much a standstill.  I didn't get too much into this part of the game, but it was by far the most…not good but playable.  You could also play it online with other people if for some reason the part of an RPG you want to play online isn't the RPG itself.  

Signs of Darkness Preview, You know I could be playing an actual game with actual friends.

Features no one asked for

This game has so many bugs you could call it a termite mound.  I mean it's excusable for Early Access to be rough around the edges, that's the point.  But to sell it for 20 bucks, then to saddle me with this many bugs to make an unplayable experience is inexcusable.  These aren't the fun bugs either, like in The Elder Scrolls some minor NPC phasing through the ground, dragons flying around backwards farting fire, or anything like that.  At one point in time I was teleported to the middle of an empty field and rendered immobile. Another time I died, but still could walk around and swing my sword in my nightmarish state of living death, though I couldn't cast spells or heal. This worked fine until I came across a goblin with thebsame powers and, rather than risk a Jack Sparrow and Barbossa standoff that would go for eternity, I restarted. And don't even get me started on the enemies that can ragdoll you with a glance. That's either a bug or very poor design.

Signs of Darkness Preview, So what now, Jack Sparrow?

Graphics and audio

The graphics are Oblivion level, not great but passable. To the games credit I did like a few of the enemy designs, the lizard men being like frilled lizards and the hell hounds looking like Spartan werewolves were neat. Aside from them, the goblins are generic orc designs and man I don't even know if they tried on your mysterious friend.

Monty python once did a sketch in which a man trained mice to squeak at a specific pitch, then he played them like an organ by striking them with hammers. Replace the mice with lethargic geese and you have the soundtrack to Signs of Darkness.  Either they need better composition or recording software because this music sounds awful. I will say it was competently composed, just poorly recorded.

Signs of Darkness Preview, *beeping intensifies*

Conclusion

Have I been hard enough on this early access title? Too hard? I think just hard enough. I appreciate the effort that goes into early access and I know that I shouldn't expect a complete game, but I feel I should at least expect a somewhat functional game. I could forgive the flaws were they not so plentiful. This feels more like and alpha. A five dollar alpha. Not a twenty dollar early access title. The designs can be good, but it's poorly optimized, poorly designed the bugs are game breaking and everywhere, and there isn't enough to make me want to power through it to see the story. I'm not saying it will never go anywhere, but at present moment I'd take a hard pass on Signs of Darkness. There are better uses for 20 dollars like burning  it to keep warm during this harsh winter.

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