Independent game studios often possess only a limited number of resources and must deliver a quality product in a relatively short timeframe. In order to gain the necessary support and possible funding to release a game, indie developers pitch extraordinary concepts to their audience, raising expectations through the roof. Sometimes the final product doesn’t fully deliver on what it had promised, and quite understandably so.
In the case of Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim, indie studio Overflow Studios assured an amazing game that would combine core elements from both the Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls series. Something of this caliber would be a dream come true for the many fans of heroic, yet challenging adventures. Comparing a work-in-progress to a couple of legendary triple-A franchises is always risky move, however. Unfortunately, Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim was ultimately unable to live up to its incorrectly generated hype. Comparisons aside, it’s a decent game with some great moments, though it’s no masterpiece by any means.
The main issue with Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim is that it doesn’t create a memorable story. There are very few, if any, events in the narrative that I’ll remember a month from now. First of all, little background on the characters or their universe is given to the player. We are initially able to assume that young Tyrim is a Viking living on a mysterious island who needs to find his father. The problem is, we never really get past that point. You would think that by the end of a huge adventure we would learn more about Tyrim and some backstory of the island. Sadly, we never get to learn about the world which possesses so much potential to be compelling.
Also, the characters Tyrim meets in his journey are just static NPCs, both physically and emotionally. They crack a few sarcastic jokes here and there but are simply forgotten about almost immediately. There’s also no audible dialogue between characters, only text. It’s surprisingly difficult to recall whom you’ve already met when there’s nothing to remember them by, not even a mere voice. It honestly seems like dialogue was taken off of a cheesy kid’s TV show most of the time and often falls flat. You really just have to take the story for what it is, a plain and lifeless backdrop.
Now, Cornerstone isn’t all that bad. It’s relaxing with a calm and peaceful soundtrack that calls for adventure. Tyrim’s journey takes place in a vast open world with multiple island locations. Each island presents a new theme, and is designed beautifully. Island space is managed very well with interconnecting pathways and tunnels that soar into the sky and burrow deep underground. Secret areas are jam-packed into each region as well. Traveling between islands is achieved by sailing the seas on a rickety boat that is later upgraded to a ship. Fast travel is also available between locations that have already been discovered, which saves a ton of time. A minimap is provided, but basically just shows a sketch of the map’s layout without a zoom option or checkpoint feature. Improving the minimap would definitely make the Cornerstone experience instantly better.
In terms of gameplay, the entirety of Cornerstone is open-world questing with combat and puzzle solving littered throughout. I assume the puzzle aspect is supposed to relate to Zelda, while combat pertains to Dark Souls. Some of the puzzles ARE original and ingenious, but combat is a much different story. Fights aren’t brutal at all, and can be broken down too easily because enemy attack patterns become obvious from the start and never evolve. Also, once an enemy is dead, they never respawn, even after restarting the game. It’s a bland and predictable system that doesn’t pose any significant challenge to the player.
These two gameplay aspects are accompanied by a crafting system where you gather resources to build items. The crafting recipes include weapons, shields, explosives, and puzzle solving tools. Building items isn’t too hard because resources are found everywhere and stockpiling them is definitely possible. Overall, the crafting system is a nice touch to the core gameplay.
What makes Cornerstone unique is that almost everything in the environment can be picked up, thrown, or rolled around. When an enemy dies, their bodies and items can be used similarly. In most games, objects and dead opponents eventually disappear from the ground but, in Cornerstone, nothing ever despawns. The sandbox physics feel realistic and objects around you become toys to your character. I sometimes found myself killing skeletons and using their bones to fight other skeletons. When finished, there would be a piles of bones all over the ground. Making the world feel alive in this way makes up for the lack of story to a degree.
Glitches run amok in the world of Cornerstone. They become more common as the game progresses, suggesting that its entirety was essentially rushed. Here’s a list of some of the most striking bugs I encountered: typos and grammar mistakes in dialogue, freezing after most cutscenes, walking through walls, invisible walls, unresponsive doors, key quest items getting stuck or disappearing, sliding around on flat ground, and misplaced character animations. These bugs are distracting and take away from the game constantly. Many times, I actually had to completely restart the game in order to progress. A “glitchfest” should always be avoided at all costs, but Cornerstone undoubtedly fell into one.
Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim had the potential to be outstanding, but fell short due to underdevelopment. Too much is missing from the game, from storylines to unique combat. Glitches plague Tyrim everywhere he goes, fundamentally breaking his travels. Although Cornerstone is unique in many areas, the negatives take away too much for them to be fun. I do not recommend buying Cornerstone, but hope another game in the future repeats its physics, puzzles, and peaceful exploration.
A PC code for Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim was provided by Phoenix Online Publishing for the purpose of this review