Over two years ago, SnowCastle Games were looking for a helping hand towards making their idea of a modern day take on the 3D RPGs of the 90s come true. So, they launched a Kickstarter to fund the development of Earthlock: Festival of Magic and I remember it well as I pledged my allegiance to the cause instantly. As one of the earliest projects I backed, it was exciting to see Earthlock get maximum coverage as it launched via the Xbox Games With Gold scheme. But was it worth the lengthy wait, and did it make the most of the opportunity by delivering an RPG that’ll be remembered fondly in time?

Welcome to the world of Umbra, a magical world filled with interesting characters, beastly creatures and a secret to be uncovered. The main crux of the story sees scavenger Amon on a journey to find his kidnapped Uncle Benjo, after a group of ruthless individuals took him hostage from their home in Zaber. This all happens as a consequence of the family duo finding a mysterious artefact, which appears to hold some significance to the world and the strange cultish people coveting it. Fortunately for Amon, he encounters a few willing – albeit begrudgingly for some – heroes in the making to help him on the rescue mission.

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Honestly, reading the dialog boxes did nothing to really engage me with the story; not that it’s bad, just it wasn’t all that interesting. In my experience, when a game’s story lacks some pizzazz, then the emphasis switches to the gameplay. Earthlock is a turn-based combat game through and through, and I think it does a pretty good job on the whole. Taking turns isn’t as straightforward as ‘your turn, their turn’; instead it takes into account the speed stat of all characters and decides accordingly. I prefer that as it adds importance to that specific attribute.

As your party of heroes grows, the attacking arsenal at your disposal becomes more diverse, featuring range shots from a lance, sword swipes and magical healing spells to name just a few. There are additional options available by switching a character’s stance, at the cost of a turn, and obviously better abilities are unlocked through levelling up. Once a character levels up, it gives you the choice of talents to add to their unlock tree, and these can improve accuracy, attack, evasion etc. What I really appreciated is the choice of how to strengthen the characters as well as the ability to switch the talents at any point to prepare for an epic battle.

One part I struggled to comprehend was in the way it decided on a hit making a full contact, being a glancing blow, or missing the target completely. As an RPG, it’s all based on chance, but you wouldn’t believe how many times I’d deal a spot of glancing damage as opposed to a decent whack. To me it felt like the system in place is a little off, resulting in a few battles being far tougher than they should be to defeat, whether in a ‘dungeon’ style area or the general overworld.

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Each area tends to consist of a save point and a sprinkling of minion-like enemies, before culminating in a big bad boss fight. It’s a simple formula, but I tend to think it works to build you up to the battle of your life. That’s if you have any life (health) left, because here’s one of the annoying parts early on. The minions will run-down your supplies and so, when you reach the climax of an area, you’ll be up against the toughest of them all and have very little chance of survival. With no potions, the hope lies in luck and a spell or two. Not ideal.

But that’s just a taste of the rather steep difficulty curve. As of this moment, I’ve reached a boss who absolutely decimates my gang of heroes without even flinching. None of the previous bosses were easy, however, this bad boy is in a different league. By following the natural flow of a game, there’s no way I should be this underprepared stat-wise. Switching stances, swapping talents and overflowing the inventory with potions has been fruitless. All I can do is go back and forth between places littered with random species of monsters, in order to purely grind my way up a few character levels. I’ve already spent an hour or so doing exactly that, but to no avail. What fun I was having, instantly became a chore.

When looking for the next step in the story, players can travel between the areas via an overworld filled with monsters at all corners, which are waiting in plain sight for any passersby to pounce upon. There’s a decent amount of variety included in Earthlock, with Crablers (giant crabs) and Goblinators (goblins) barely scratching the surface. You’ll be able to see monsters easily and draw as many, or as few, as you want should they be in large groups, meaning you can pick monsters off are your own pace, or even run far enough away to lose their attention and avoid conflict. Having those options are only a good thing.

Whilst combat is heavily featured to progress through areas, there are occasionally environmental based puzzles to overcome. Sadly, these are rather simple for the most part and don’t really test the old noggin too much.

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And when you aren’t traversing through places – once unlocked – you’re warping to the safe haven of Plumpet Island. A place where resting to full health, growing materials and crafting using them, are all possible. It’s a nice little place, but it’s irritating having to warp there in order to then warp to any other previously visited area. Unnecessary time wasting I’d call that, much like having to go all the way to the main menu upon death to load up the last save file.

Anyway, despite not fully getting into the story, I do like how the main characters helping you in the heat of a battle are so different from each other. Some of these include a conjuring hogbunny, a spoilt and rebellious daughter of a general, and a mysterious warrior lady, whom all complement each other in fighting style and personality. I’m not overly convinced on the visual qualities of the character models, but then again the overall look of the light and dark side of Umbra doesn’t exactly set the world alight either – it’s not terrible, just nothing special.

To summarise, Earthlock: Festival of Magic manages to deliver some truly enjoyable turn-based combat, full of differing abilities to choose from, and decent customisation on characters’ attribute focus. Where it lets itself down is in the strange lack of accurate strikes, an overly steep learning curve and the less than exciting dialogue to further a lacking story. Disregarding the Games With Gold scheme, it really doesn’t warrant the regular price tag of over £20.

Earthlock is a good game hindered by grinding, silly things that waste a player’s time and visuals that aren’t quite at the standard I’d expect. Grab it for free, or in the sale.

2 COMMENTS

    • I’m with you there. I backed it on Kickstarter too but have saved my pledge for the sequel. Checked out the free games via Games With Gold, but couldn’t get into it. Perhaps I’ll go back again one day, but I expected more. Not sure what ‘more’ that was going to be though.

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