You’ve escaped The Inquisition and your would-be executioner, and now you’re out for revenge. That’s the basic premise of Fictorum, an action RPG by Scraping Bottom Games, which utilizes a magic based destruction system and FTL style map. The game starts with plenty of customization options, both for the physical appearance of your character (including a Helmet of Shame which is locked in for the easiest difficulty) and for the style of game you want to play.
Besides the typical difficulty setting available, you can also choose your starting title. This gives you a combination of armor and a starting spell. You start with being able to choose Firebrand, Frost-bound or Tempest which gives you a fire spell, frost spell or lighting spell respectively. Over the course of the game, you can unlock more starting titles such as Infinite Dragon which give you different starting spells and armor. Overall, this gives you quite a lot of variety to start with. However, pick your starting spell carefully, as you’ll be using it quite often to begin with.
Once you’ve chosen your character, you then need to choose your route via the map. Most map tiles have a choice when moved to, allowing you to flesh out your character slightly more – by choosing whether he stays and helps people (for-profit or not) or moves on to fulfill his own mission. Some tiles have vendors, which offer the main way of healing, namely paying them Essence (the game’s currency) to heal. These vendors also offer armor, rings and spell tomes to buy, but I’ve found these are often too expensive to purchase, especially after you’ve cured your ailments. Other ways to heal include resting on the world map, thereby allowing The Inquisition to move closer to you (I wouldn’t suggest allowing them to reach you) or by finding health potions in houses, but I find this option to be the least effective.
While you can enter each building and search each corner for loot and health potions, I would suggest not. Instead, only go into a few which look promising. This is because, firstly it’s a lot more fun to just blow it all up, but also when you enter a building your character’s perspective changes from third-person to first-person. This increases the sensitivity of the camera tenfold, and coupled with the small spaces and jittery loading of textures, can make you quite motion sick (even I felt queasy, and I’ve never had that happen to me before from playing a game). I do have to commend the development team though, for taking the time to make all the interior of the houses, as they’re really quite detailed and it’s almost a shame you spend most of your time blowing them up.
Destruction mechanics are always a welcome sight in video games from the calculated removal of blocks in Minecraft to blowing up a bridge from 100 feet away while on top of a plane in Just Cause 3. Fictorum, a game which involves you, as the mystical and eponymous Fictorum, using changeable spells to destroy your enemies, definitely falls into the latter category. Of course, you can only use your magic if you have enough mana which is a problem.
Half a dozen barbarians running after me, I chuck a fireball their way, disintegrating a couple. One barbarian has a reflect spell equipped, requiring a few more hits. I reach into the depths of my mind, uttering the incantation and feel a strange emptiness. I’ve run out of mana and have no choice but to run away. This scenario happens quite a lot, and while you can use your health as replacement mana (an interesting mechanic), health is an even more scarce resource, so I just ended up fleeing a lot. Being a king of destruction only half the time isn’t nearly as good as being it all the time.
The camera has a few more problems as well. Firstly, your character is offset from the camera by quite a margin, making controlling him awkward. Secondly, as most of the game requires precise aiming against enemies, while simultaneously running away from these same enemies’ own spells, I haven’t found the precision of aiming easy enough, especially when coupled with the numerous line of sight blockages. Usually, you’ll think you’re aiming at someone and end up overshooting and hitting a tree just past them. You’ll then have to resort to basically running at them and attacking them when they’re next to you, then you’ll run out of mana and it all just goes wrong. All in all, by the end of the level you’ll have felt less like an all-powerful wizard and more like a shaking drunk who can’t string the words together to fire a spell.
When it does work, however, the game is really quite fun. Blinking everywhere, launching fireballs at bridges to destroy the enemies on top, all the while stopping projectiles mid-air (my favorite spell), and creating my own tales of valor and bravery is what’s great about Fictorum. Of course, you’ve also got the main mechanic in the game, which is the alteration of spells via runes. Using this mechanic, you can focus a fireball to explode further or turn into three separate fireballs along with many more alterations. These come at a cost of more mana, which I’ve already mentioned is in short supply. However, it is an interesting concept which, if developed (with more unique changes, for example) could become as integral in RPG’s as magic itself.
Being able to create your own tales is great, as the story is all right at best. While good enough to justify it being there (and with some quite dark turns) does get nonsensical and repetitive at times, mostly due to the random nature of the map nodes. I’ve had playthroughs where I’ve somehow gone to the same village twice and I already feel like I’ve seen most of the early villages and choices half a dozen times.
This does have the positive of speeding up new playthroughs though, as you don’t have to read the story each time. And you will be starting a lot of playthroughs, even before beating previous ones, as more powerful starting tiles unlock and you can progress easier and further with them than the original starting tiles. Don’t go into a playthrough thinking you’ll be able to just complete it with that one as there is a degree of luck with your loot pickings and map spawns.
Lastly, I’ll mention the graphics which I can compare mostly to the first The Witcher game by that it’s serviceable but looks dated. Seeing as this game was released this year while The Witcher 1 was released back in 2007, it’s a problem, especially for the graphically conscious minds of today’s gamers. The textures are plain and undetailed, the animations are clunky and there’s just an air of unfinished to the game. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find good voice acting in the game, but it’s a shame there isn’t more of it. Also more positively, the game seems well optimized despite a long loading time.
Fictorum focuses on one of the most important (in my opinion) aspects of an RPG – the magic, with a steely-eyed focus, which is both great and not so much. This much focus in a genre which is normally seen as bloated, what with the likes of the 200+ Bethesda and Square Enix games ruling the roost, allows for some truly engaging gameplay with the expense of pretty much everything else. It’s a shame, because I had some fantastic moments in Fictorum, as destruction rained from my fingertips, but alas, there’s just slightly too many flaws for me to wholly recommend this.
A PC review copy of Fictorum was provided by Scraping Bottom Games for the purpose of this review