REVIEW: Fictorum

TO DO LIST: New Hairdo -Check. Feed Scruffy -Check. Renew Wooden Cart Registration -Check. Blow Up Entire Neighboring Village -Check.

Games that center around a certain gimmick, tend to make gamers on a budget nervous. Rightfully so, who wants to get burned on yet another bad game with a singular hook? Fictorum holds its hand out offering physics and explosions galore, but does it hold up? Fictorum, might just be the fidget spinners of this year’s indie game releases.  New gaming gimmick? Not really. Original and engrossing storyline? No. Pioneer in audio/visual effects? Doesn’t need to be. Fictorum doles out small servings of mindless mayhem tied together with strands of rogue-like and RPG elements, but what matters is that it’s actually entertaining!

Fictorum is an action role playing game where you play as a wizard (known as the Fictorum). You are the last of your order, the rest of which was persecuted into extinction by ‘The Inquisition’. According to the game’s lore you “survived your own execution”, but now scarred with something known as “the corruption”. Your character now embarks on a revenge spree in which (hopefully) his order is avenged. These background story aspects are not fleshed out very well, but it doesn’t take an MIT master’s degree to piece this together either.

With a simple button press decide what additional effects you want to add to your fireball blast
I prefer my carnage a little medium rare to be honest.

The story is presented to players via an unfolding scroll, each action taken on the overview map adds to your expanding story. As you select a location, you are presented with a choice, directed to an action sequence, or both. Do you help the poor farmers of the Banin Foothills? Doing so may mean an encounter with more enemies than you are prepared for. Ignoring it may mean missing out on needed currency (known as essence), as well as an embarrassing blurb about you being a coward. Once an area is complete, your scroll fills in a summary of your latest adventure. As well as icons at the end of the tale. Each icon representing a facet of your actions on that mission, with titles like “Such was the Fictorum’s Rage He Left No One Alive” received for torching everyone, another stated “Historical records show the Fictorum was grievously injured that day”. While these nuances can be appreciated, the story and side quests themselves are not very complex, interesting, or even well connected with the action elements of the game.

Custom character options and some rogue-like story elements can lead to an interesting tale of death and destruction.

All of Fictorum’s mission designs are simplistic and repetitive: destroy all the buildings, destroy all the enemies, or get the hell out of the level the zombies are coming. Which is fine, since your wizard is pissed, and in this revenge tale, needs to blow everything up. So, if you like destruction, Fictorum is a chaos-Costco. It’s not all death and destruction, there is some minimal character customization. Aside from your own aesthetics, players can also select a character class which alters starting abilities and defenses (there are only a few to chose from on the first playthrough). I decided to first go with the Firebrand class, which starts off with a handy fireball spell. My first mission revolved around some rogue wizards acting all Carlito’s Way by some mountainside. We can’t have any of that, there’s only one badass in this adventure, and that’s Torchy Tom (it’s my character, don’t judge me).

Torchy Tom of course, chose the option to bring peace to the mountainside via thermal disintegration. The level was a plain winding road with homes scattered alongside it. A fortress loomed overhead with glowing beams indicating my escape route. Once I had taken in the sights, the background music began to intensify — enemies were heading my way. I took aim down the road and lobbed a trio of fireballs at their location. Two struck the house, which turned into burned confetti spraying all over the area. The other collided with an enemies head sending the charred body reeling head over heels. Cool.

The wizard duels and the mission choices, for whatever reason (could also be the dated aesthetics) kept reminding me of Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight.

It is clear these developers wanted to capture and deliver the experience of being a magical juggernaut on a rampage and they do that well. Fireballs whiz through the air shattering walls like glass, lightning bolts that arc through whole gangs, ice spears that impale enemies, and more. Regardless of character class, pick up any tome and instantly gain access to a new destructive ability. Spells can be “shaped” or buffed in certain ways on the fly, before launching them at foes. Right clicking allows for the addition of up to three runes. These runes are acquired at shops or at random through quests or defeated foes; some allow for damage over time effects, increasing the explosion force of your fireball, stunning enemies.

Tutorial instruction is handled by a simple map with glowing signs. It’s efficient and teaches players the nuances in only minutes. Mastering the advanced levels takes cunning.

The balancing force through all of the mayhem is your mana and health. Mana is limited but recharges at a decent pace, adding shaping effects to your blast depletes your mana faster, holding your shot while aiming depletes it even more. After your mana is gone, health is depleted next. Health is also lost by sustaining combat damage. Health, however, is not easily replenished. Finding health potions on levels is rare and essence is better saved for enchantments and purchases. Protecting your health then becomes a valuable commodity.

Managing these health/mana elements seems simple enough against the more common bandits and enemies. Things change dramatically when the more powerful wizards, and Corruption monsters appear. Battles now turn into grander duels. These tougher enemies have magical defenses, they can even teleport dodging attacks as quickly as you can and with comparable attacks. What erupts is a mix of frantic dodging and escaping, while trying to get an accurate shot off in fractions of a second. Thus, using all three runes might not be a smart thing to do with every blast, it’s a sure way to leave yourself mana deficient and defenseless. The constant by-the-seat-of-your-pants gameplay keeps combat fresh and fun. It’s enough to help overlook the monotony of the game levels.

“Honey, have you seen my keys anywhere?”

After missions, you have the option of changing equipment with new items you have found, or enchanting them (increases their stats by a percentage). You can also move towards shop locations to trade and purchase new spells, runes, heal yourself, or buy more items. You will notice a creeping wave after every move on the overview map as well. This wave represents The Inquisition, should it catch up to you a nightmarish battle where hordes of the most powerful enemies in the game try to kill you ensues. It is most certainly not something most will be able to get through without considerable character advancement. The Inquisition prevents players from lingering around shops or resting to full health between missions. It forces players to be careful with their life force, and not grind up loot unfettered. In addition, picking the right items to enhance your play style is mildly important. Some abilities require massive amounts of mana, or some play styles require massive amounts of defenses to sustain you in combat; giving the choices you make on the overview map some consequence.

Fictorum is an impressive effort from newcomers Scraping Bottom Games. Put together by only a handful of people. Therefore there is plenty of crude, unpolished, buggy, and even dull elements to this game. Those that were expecting Metal Gear Solid V levels of production (and yes I’ve read quite a few out there) need to temper their expectations. The game features a lot of repetitive assets, enough that the game will always appear far from cutting edge. Once you’ve seen the first 3-4 houses, you’ve seen them all. Terrains and textures are probably Unreal 2 engine based.

Did you say your house needs a skylight? No problem!

 

Do not expect advanced AI from enemies either, they rush at you headfirst let out a scream and welcome death with open arms. Story elements at times make no sense, like a mission intro that says you met someone who’s dawdling on the side of the road then you have to fight a dozen Corrupted in a village — what was the point of the someone you met? Enemies take damage from falling debris, which is nice when you collapse a bridge on them. It’s not nice when a burnt twig from an exploded tree, lands on your head, wiping out 30% of your much needed health. This falsely registered “debris damage” is more than just mildly annoying. Last, I have experienced a few crashes, graphical jitters, and other minor technical annoyances at times.

Despite its evident flaws, Fictorum is a game I found myself going playing over again. Despite it’s one dimensional aspects, it’s all the additional nuances that keep me playing; like the unfolding random storyline, randomized locations, RPG elements, and chaotic wizard boss battles. The wizard duels and the mission choices, for whatever reason (could also be the dated aesthetics) it kept reminding me of Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight. This is not a comparison I make lightly, since DF2 is, in my book, one of the best computer games ever made. Some of my fondest memories of that classic game involved darting around precarious ledges fighting the AI Jedi bosses with force powers and elite lightsaber fencing skills (read: wildly swinging the mouse whilst smashing the WASD keys). In Fictorum, I’m dodging icy comets, firebombs, and sizzling balls of death, while pausing for a moment to drop a two ton meteor on 20 enemies and then teleport to the nearest ledge and avoiding more enemy barrages. With most of the games crude aspects curable with a well made patch or two, and regardless of the games repetitive one dimensional nature, Fictorum is gold in spurts. That’s why I heartily recommend this game to action/RPG fans (especially if you have your “indie” glasses on). However, my recommendation is tempered by Fictorum’s price, it is priced on the high end of indie games which this is not quite there. With polish and more content it would have more value, but as it stands a lower price point will appeal to more gamers.

Available on Steam