by Zee Salahuddin
reviewed on PC
Of Combat and Bloodshed (cntd)
Arkail has a rage meter that starts empty and fills up the more damage he sustains and dishes out. Rage must be carefully managed, for if the meter gets full, you lose control over him, bloodlust takes over and he maniacally clobbers anything in his path. Including Styx. I have had to reload several save games because I neglected his rage meter, and he took out Styx in two swings before being brought down by the enemy forces. In sharp contrast, Styx has a concentration meter, that starts full, and his attacks use up concentration with every ability used. This adds an layer of complexity to combat where you try to keep Arkail’s rage from boiling over, and Styx from losing concentration.
You level constantly, approximately once every 25-30 minutes of play. Each level you get one skill and one attribute point for both characters. Attribute points increase your basic statistics, such as strength (which correlates to damage) and mind (which correlates to rage and concentration). Skill points are used to upgrade abilities and stances. Arkail has an offensive and defensive stance, with boosts applied to your combat prowess and damage absorption abilities respectively. Styx, similarly, has a melee and a ranged stance. There is a special stance for both characters which allows the use of abilities in any stance. All stances have several abilities and everything can be upgraded once, and you can choose one of two upgrades. For example, you can upgrade a damage ability to either have a chance at stunning the target, or doing double damage. There is no redistribution of points, so you must weigh your decisions very carefully. Towards the end of the game, both of your characters will open up specializations. Depending on which specialization you choose, three additional, very powerful, endgame abilities will also be made available to you in the special stance tree.
Of Assassination and Animations
Styx is a masterful assassin, and turns nearly invisible by pressing Shift. When you are controlling one character, the other automatically follows a few feet behind. However, when Styx is in stealth-mode, Arkail intelligently stays put. You can guide Styx around the area, systematically assassinating solitary targets, humans, Orcs or Goblins. You cannot assassinate hounds. If you can be patient, often you will remove half the opposing force without raising an alarm. As a methodical player, I found this mix of optional stealth before nearly every combat situation extremely rewarding and satisfying.
There are, of course, several problems. Arkail could be behind a rock outcropping, halfway down the map, in darkness, on a different elevation and out of sight. But once you are detected in an area, all enemies instantly know precisely where you are, and they will beeline straight to you. Stealth itself is problematic from an immersion point of view. Soldiers will be oblivious to Styx in stealth mode, but townspeople will “detect” him and cower in fear, and even then soldiers will not react. The same townspeople will stand unblinking, unmoving, with zero reaction, as you come out of stealth behind a soldier and slit his throat ear to ear, only to drop back into shadows. Patrolling soldiers will literally walk over the dead body of their comrade that you just killed, without stopping to investigate or raising an alarm.
Styx has one animation for each of the three species he can assassinate. It is cool to see him break stealth behind a huge Orc, jump onto his shoulders, viciously jab his daggers into his neck, back flip and land on his feet just as the enemy collapses in a heap. It is annoying to see the same exact animation for the 100th Orc you assassinate. The animations can also be fairly wonky. Often during assassinations, Styx would seem to be having some sort of spastic, epileptic attack, limbs atwitter as the animation completes.
Great story, fresh perspective on the “humans vs. Orcs” idea, excellent music, deep combat mechanics, memorable characters.
Poor voice-acting, random bugs, questionable AI, a rushed ending and a general lack of polish.