What can you do as a game developer when everything has been invented already? Keep milking the well-known franchises with annual updates and DLCs? That seems to be the trend these days but fortunately there is another option which the developers (especially indie ones) have noticed; remade classic games. Bring the technology of an old game up-to-date and wrap the whole package in an attractive FullHD parcel. The concept is brilliant and especially heart-warming for all the old-time gamers who grew up when the industry was still young. Now an Austrian indie developer has released a remake called Realms of Arkania (RoA) Blade of Destiny from a classic 1990's RPG. Can the gameplay of the Golden Age of gaming still keep it's head high in modern days? Let's find out.
The game starts in the year 1008 in a fantasy world called Aventuria. The evil orcs are gathering to invade the world and the only thing that can stop them is a magic blade. Too bad this blade has been lost for centuries (how on Earth do they always lose all their magical trinkets?) so now it's up to you and your group of seasoned adventures to find it and rid the world of the orc threat. The story isn't explained at any point during the game, I was browsing through the (hardly adequate) help files when I stumbled upon a small caption about the orc invasion. It seems the game has a time limit (about 20 in-game years) before the invasion begins. It should be much more clearer to the player since now you're just plunged into the world with practically no idea what to do. The help files don't really help with actually playing the game but instead have stuff like 'Drunk' mentioned.
When you start a new game, you're given the option to either create a party out of pre-made characters or create your own characters (the maximum number of characters in a party is 6). When creating a new character you can select his/hers race/profession from 11 different possibilities; you have your basic professions like Warrior, Rogue and Magician for example and races like Dwarf and different Elves. Each of these has different advantages and disadvantages which are quite self-explanatory; the Warrior can take up a beating but can't use magic for example. Each character has 7 different attributes which are familiar to anyone who has ever played a computer RPG; you have things like Charisma and Strength, which all affect the way your character handles him/herself in the vastness of the game world. The characters also have negative attributes, like Fear of Heights and Greed, which affect them in a bad way.
Since the game is based on a game that is based on a pen and paper RPG system (that's a mouthful), instead of just simply assigning spare points on your attributes you roll a dice. You can then freely assign the number on the dice on any of your attributes. Some characters have minimum and maximum values on some of their attributes which must be met in order for the character to be 'legal'. You then do the same for the negative attributes, which also might have minimum and maximum values. If you end up with an 'illegal' character, you can for example sacrifice some positive attributes to lower some negative attributes. The character creation is quite enjoyable but (mostly thanks to the awful help files) you have no idea what most of the attributes actually do. When you're satisfied with your characters (or gave up and used the pre-made characters instead) it's time to start exploring Aventuria.
The gameplay of RoA is split into three different types of 'modes'; city exploration, travelling on the world map and combat. When exploring cities and towns the game is played from a first-person perspective, much like Skyrim. You move your party around using your mouse and keyboard, talk to the inhabitants (with very limited dialogue options) and visit shops, taverns and such. The aforementioned 'Drunk' in the help files starts making sense when exploring the cities; every other house you can visit seems to be a tavern. Occasionally you stumble upon NPCs that offer you quests. These quests are pretty straightforward in the lines of 'go here and kill this' but unfortunately you get NO markers or anything about where to go. This goes hand-to-hand with the original game (remember the piles of notes you had when playing an RPG in the 90's?) but some sort of quest markers would have been welcome. Once again you end up browsing the horrible help files.
There is no free roam in the game but instead you travel between towns on the world map (which is quite big). You start travelling by activating sign posts in the cities or by visiting the harbors in the coastal towns. You can then select your destination and off you go! Depending on the distance you're travelling your party might get tired and they need rest. When resting you can search for supplies (each character has hunger and thirst which must be satisfied), cast spells or just simply sleep. You can select how many hours your party sleeps for but keep in mind that the game has a time limit (which is quite irritating). Your party also recovers health and magic points (which are needed to cast spells) while sleeping and the amount recovered depends on the amount of sleep they get. Sometimes while travelling or sleeping you encounter enemies and you're given the choice to either run away or fight the enemies.
The combat in RoA is turn-based and takes place in special closed environments that have grids. Environments is an overstatement since all the fights that occurred always took place in the exact same claustrophobic room. You and your opponents take turns in moving your characters, attacking and casting spells. Since the game is lacking any sort of tutorial and the help files aren't helpful, it took me a while to figure out how to actually attack. Once figured the combat is quite simple, just move your character to attacking range and click the enemy you want to attack. Spells are cast in similar fashion; just click on the character you want to cast a spell upon and select the desired spell from the different spell categories you've mastered. The pen and paper legacy of the game shows it's ugly face in combat; most of the time your characters miss or fail an attack or fail at casting a spell. This makes the battles carry on and on, which is frustrating. No wonder the developers promise the game time to be anywhere between 20 to 80 hours. I gave up after a few hours. Being an RPG, the characters collect experience. Enough experience and your character gains a level allowing you to distribute points on his/hers attributes and skills (which are plentiful).
Technically the game is awful. The graphics are 'a-ok' but the textures look horrible; especially the sky looks horrendous. There seems to be a cloning factory hidden somewhere in the forests of Aventuria since I kept bumping on the same block-head NPC no matter where I went. The water looks great and the weather effects are nicely done but it doesn't save the overall graphics. You can even set motion blur on but it's overused and only indoors (which are just static screens). The animations are quite nicely done, especially in combat. The music didn't awaken any grand emotions but it does it's part. The other sounds on the other hand are absolutely horrifying; especially the narrator (who just happens to read every single line of dialogue) makes your ears bleed. Some of the technical flaws are very evident, you can for example walk through trees and most of the text found on the help files (along with crappy English) cuts off in the middle of a sentence! Not that they would have helped anyways...
Judging by the graphics and the amount of 'action' on the screen you'd think that the game runs like a dream. Wrong. The game ran like crap and especially rain made the game look like a PowerPoint show. The minimum requirements are a joke; a 2.4GHz dual core CPU with 2GB RAM and a GT240/HD3700 series GPU will never run this, not to mention the fact that the developers seem to believe you can use DirectX 10 with Windows XP... The recommended requirements on the other hand seem to be a bit more closer to the truth; a 2.8GHz quad core with 4GB RAM and a GTX660/HD7850 GPU might have a chance at running this with playable FPS. Just be warned that I played with a 3.4GHz 8-threaded CPU, 12GB RAM and a factory-overclocked HD7970.
Don't get me wrong, I really wanted to like this game. I'm a huge fan of the old-school RPGs and these remakes are like bundles of gold to me. Unfortunately the developers seemed to have forgotten to modernize the game; the game is exactly like it was back in the 90's. This could also be understood as a good thing but sadly the technical flaws and the lack of any kind of useful in-game help brings the overall experience down by a mile. Add the quite steep price (20€/$26/£16) to the equation and you're left with an expensive pile of technical flaws that satisfies no one. This should have been freeware.