Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Lichdom: Battlemage (PS4) Review

Wasted potential is one of the most damaging things for a game.  Worse than mediocrity.  At least being average and forgettable doesn't leave you with regret.  Having a great idea on paper does not automatically transfer into a great game on the screen.  It still requires execution, know-how, and time.  Unfortunately for it, Lichdom: Battlemage is full of potential that it squanders.

Picture this: a power-mad ruler and his arrogant general flaunt their power over the commoners by doing as they please. Maybe they kill your family, or kidnap your sister.  After your despair, an old wizard approaches, offering you the power to take your revenge.  He gifts you two magic bracers that allow you to conjure magic.  Several elements are at your control, allowing you to destroy any in your path on your quest to make bad men pay for their crimes.

Sounds great, right?  It's a solid concept that, coupled with decent gameplay, would make an interesting title.  Sadly, Lichdom does not have that gameplay.  The building blocks are there, but the execution is not.  The game is first person.  Movement and aiming is what you would expect from a first person shooter, so the left stick moves the character while the right stick aims.  R2 fires off your offensive spell, L2 is a defensive shield, and both together uses your area of effect (AoE) spell.  There's also a short dash to move out of the way of enemies.

There are different trajectories and distances to launch your attacks, some more useful than others.  Both the attack and AoE can be charged to do more damage or hit a larger area.  That idea actually works fairly well.  The biggest problem is dealing with multiple enemies coming from random directions.  There are no constant threats, just rooms that spawn foes.  Unfortunately, there's no real way to tell how many are spawning and where, unless you see them appearing. Many times I would be fighting, only to get blindsided by some skeleton that popped out of the ground behind me or something similar. Then you have the scramble to get away, only to remember you don't move as fast as they can, nor have the generous attack range they do.  That's not the most conducive to charging an attack, which is usually a better and faster way to dispatch them.

So why not use the shield?  I do.  Well, I try.  To actually be effective with the shield, you need to time your block just as the enemy attacks.  This triggers a "nova" burst to damage everything around you.  Well, with some of the shield types anyway.  This is useful and powerful, but really hard (for me) to time correctly.  So, I try the dodge maneuver.  Sadly, it isn't much better.  For some shield types, you can only do a few "blinks", and they just don't go far enough to be useful.  I found it better to just do the tried and true "running around the room backwards while firing", and using the dash to stay out of harm's reach longer.

While you eventually discover several elements to command, only three can be taken with you at a time.  They can be swapped at some checkpoints.  These checkpoints also serve as your respawn point if and when you die.  It's not a new mechanic at all, but I appreciate that they work your character's "immortality" into the story.  The health system does have some unique features however. You have three health bars.  A bar can refill over time unless it was fully drained.  Fixing that can only be done by finding special orbs laying around the environment.  There is a burst from your shield when a bar is depleted, but all three going empty means a trip back to the last checkpoint, and doing whatever you started all over again.

Occasionally you will get points to strengthen some of your spells if you use them enough.  However, sometimes the point doesn't seem to increase a stat, so why use it on them?  Crafting new spells is a slightly more reliable way to make them better.  Enemies can drop different parts of spells of different rarities that you can use to make your own magic.  You are still limited by the types, but you can change trajectory, damage, and more.  While I do like some RPG elements in games, it feels a bit half baked in Lichdom.  The drops are plentiful, but still random, so you may not get what you want, or even something you can use.  You get a lot of drops, but it's still not easy to figure out what goes where if you are trying it for yourself.  That leads to the last few disappointing things about the game.

Capping the unhappy experience is the bad user interface.  While not always a make-or-break element, it does affect the experience.  In this case, it makes a bad situation worse.  The menu has both a normal and streamlined version.  One is good for making spells and seeing your drop components, but you need the other to upgrade them.  It's a baffling decision.  Plus, moving around the different menus is also a pain.  From wonky selections to having to use the menu button to exit (as opposed to hitting the cancel button), it just further mars the experience. 

Overall, Lichdom is not a good game.  I had heard that going in, but morbid curiosity got the better of me.  At least it was only a rental.  Multiple elements and spells is a great idea, as is the attack/defense/AoE control scheme.  Spell crafting is nice for customizing spells.  Unfortunately, the game doesn't run well, doesn't play well, and has bad user interfaces.  The game is only four years old, but looks and feels ten.  It would take a lot of effort and know-how to get this game to live up to its potential, and since it still hasn't happened after its numerous patches, it doesn't look like it ever will.

The Good:
Several spell types to play around with, and able to be customized to the player and situation.

The Bad:
Enemy hit detection, the UI, the big lack of polish.

The SaHD:
The game moves pretty smooth when you are just wandering.  The second enemies or effects appear, the frame rate takes a noticeable dive.

(Lichdom: Battlemage was rented from Gamefly's service.)

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