Among the many games I have played, especially those that attempt their own versions of the famous
Dungeons and Dragons
style of gameplay,
Realms of Arkania
is the most unique. There is little doubt in my mind that it will be one of the most memorable experiences I have had with the genre. Developed by Crafty Studios, the game is an attempt to, surprisingly, not make an original IP but rather remake a 1992 game by German company Attic Entertainment Software. The remake hopes to both capture the feel of traditional pen-and-paper RPGs and reboot the
Realms of Arkania
series of games (as the franchise has moved on to newer properties).
Right from the start of the game, the pen and paper influences are apparent as the player will start with six preset adventurers gathered in a temple. The player can then either opt for the six preset choices or make their own heroes. The party creation menu brought up by clicking on a small, radial menu from which multiple options can be selected. These options include donating money to the temple, creating a character for the player, managing the group/members of the party, asking for a miracle to happen, and leaving the temple.
If opting to create a custom character, the player is presented with a choice of which class they desire. The game is not lacking for choice. Alongside your traditional warrior/rogue/magician classes come classes such as Dwarf, Thorwalian Woman, and Ice Elf for you to pick from among several other class choices bringing the total count up to about ten or so classes.
After selecting a class the player then makes several behind-the-scenes rolls for their various stats that can be assigned to their attributes containing both their positives, like Intuition and Strength, and negative, like Violent Temper and Curiosity. In addition, after character creation, the player is then allowed to improve the characters various spells and talents. There is a large multitude of both to select from too! In abilities alone there are about 40 or so to pick from. At each level up a player is granted a certain amount of skill-points to spend on both spells and talents. Each time a skill-point is spent a dice is rolled behind the scene and, if it comes in above a certain number, the spell or talent will then increase.
Then the player can move onto spells which function in the same manner for leveling and offer a wide variety from 'Be My Friend' and 'Meek You Be' to 'Aeolitus' and 'Plumbumbarum', each with their own unique effects. A wide variety has uses outside of battle while some are useful only in battle, so a careful balance between them is required. For those whom need help remembering which is which and how the various talents and spells work into each other, an extensive guide explains the game mechanics and carries notes is available. The talents and spells can be used in many ways too. For example, a character with a high value in 'Search Food' can, when the party sets up camp for the night, be tasked to gather food to attempt to replenish the group’s supplies, useful for prolonged journeys. Meanwhile, characters with high dance skills can attempt to dance in bars and be humiliated by performing the chicken dance... and sometimes succeed to earn extra cash for the group to spend on rations, weapons, and armor.
Once all preparations are complete, the player can set out into the world by leaving the temple. The game opts for a 3D world and town setting to roam around in with a great deal of shops, temples to multiple deities, and inns, offering plenty of places to visit all and obtain the necessary gear, information, and chicken-dance fun. The game offers many dialogue options, allowing a few ways to gather the necessary information needed before heading out in the world. To ensure that the information is clear and understood, a narrator is provided whose slow, and clear voice, makes it pretty easy to understand what needs to be done.
When all is said and done, the player can finally leave the town to complete their quest. When the player leaves town an overhead map is displayed with the various pathways that can be taken shown by a white line. Upon selecting the line, the journey begins. The party will automatically set out and journey along the road until nightfall, a event occurs, or they reach their final destination. As previously mentioned, events can occur along the road, such as meeting a group of people sending logs downstream, finding boar tracks, or being ambushed by groups of foes for example.
Battle is fairly simple to understand for players of pen-and-paper campaigns. Party members and enemies are placed upon a grid and each of side takes turns moving and attacking each other with chances to hit, miss or parry each other as determined by dice rolls. Spells function by these rules too, each with a chance to hit or fail in the casting of the spell along with dealing with spell range and the like.
As for the story, the Ork clans have been rallied by one of their chieftains and are invading human-controlled lands. You are tasked with finding the sword Grimring that has been lost upon the death of its wielder, Hetman Hyggelik the Great. If you can manage to find the sword you can challenge the Ork chieftain and, as they fear the blade, potentially drive them back from your lands, defeating them once again. It is largely an attempt to simply retell the original story from the original game and appears to deviate only a little from it.
For those of you who feel that this game may still be interesting, I suggest you do not continue to read.
It is clear as to what the game is trying to do: recreate the feel of the older styles of D&D and bring back many of the distinctive traits and designs that it once held. It is trying to bring back things like worlds filled with unique names to create atmosphere, difficult dungeon battles and the like. However, this game does so without the understanding that it is a computer game rather than a pen and paper tabletop game. Certain elements and mechanics simply do not function in the same manner. For example, when it comes to rolling dice to decide what a character's stats are, it can be assumed that players are either capable of seeing all potential rolls at once or, failing that, are at least informed on how they work together in tandem with their various other stats.
Realms of Arkania does not do this. While I do not know the source material or the original video game, the simple fact is that the game operates with the understanding that the player is completely familiar with the entire Arkania media empire. In order to have a glimmer of hope for newcomers, the game needs to settle down and learn how to utilize the tools presented with it. We are no longer game in an age that requires us to flip through pages of text to figure out how much a skill can be raised and what the odds of raising are. The game doesn't need an entire book to help us figure out we would want a to play a Snow Elf over a Forest Elf. We expect to see such information presented plainly and on the screen.
Even on the most basic levels this game struggles. Something as simple as leaving the starting temple should not be a challenge that needs consultations from the forums because the developers couldn't place a 'leave building' button on the screen. Instead, the player has to first realize that clicking on the main screen, not the menu, character portraits, or anything of the sort, would even do anything first. Understanding how the game works, providing a chance to experience just how to learn how to play in an environment that won't destroy them when they make the inevitable mistakes that come with learning, and providing even simple information are outright shortcomings that this game needs to address before I would even consider it to be a viable game in of itself. I can describe the game in detail, I can do my best to hide behind a simple objective barebones explanation, but in the end it does not change the simple truth.
In order for Realms of Arkania to work, the game needs a complete overhaul in its very core mechanics. When I did some research upon this game, I found that not only were the majority of players on the Steam Forums confused and complaining about the lack of information which made combat unfairly tedious and difficult at best, but that the shortcomings and negative reception was so bad that an apology was delivered on the state of the game. While this was in relation to the amount of bugs present with the game and not its current shortcomings, that such a thing even happened, to this extent no less, speaks volumes about what is happening here.
The original Realms of Arkania series lasted for three games and the current developers that made the original game are still in business. There is potential here. The problem is not the material that has been provided to work with. With the right changes what is present can be salvaged. However, this salvage will require a lot of work. Explaining details, focusing on making things accessible, making combat and not knowing how every stat, talent, piece of equipment (did you know that wearing armor makes you less likely to hit?), and spell relates into each other less punishing, and above all else, learning to provide the player with even basic information that should be obvious and does not need to be hidden must be done in order to make this game viable.
When I started to write this preview I was asked to give an even keel, to try and be fair and explain what the game is trying to do as well as explain where it needs some work. This is not meant to be taken as a review but rather an explanation of why I feel the game is in dire need of help. It is trying to be the game that was once well liked, but times have changed and it has not. It is trying to present the appeal of pen and paper RPG's, but it has not realized that there are no books, compendiums, monster guides or rules. It is trying to appeal to those whom desire things to be difficult, but has not realized that difficulty and punishment are two entirely different things. As someone who is writing a preview and not a review, all I can say is that this game was released to the public over a year ago from the date of this writing. Since then it has done little more than accumulate cries for help from people simply asking how to get started and build a viable starting team.
I cannot say anything more that the community has already mentioned.