Gamers of a certain age will no doubt remember Attic Entertainment Software’s classic RPG series from back in the ’90s, Realms of Arkania. It’s an old school trilogy that received critical acclaim, and as such, the developers over at Crafty Studios decided to remake the first title – Blade of Destiny – for both old and new players to enjoy. Let’s just say the reception wasn’t too great, but that hasn’t stopped them from returning with the second instalment, Realms of Arkania: Star Trail, which has now made its way onto Xbox One.
Marketed as being an old school RPG at its best, can Realms of Arkania: Star Trail deliver an experience that manages captivate a modern day audience in tandem with hooking in those wanting a blast of nostalgia? You’d certainly hope so, especially given that it promises a complete visual reimagining and an overhaul of every aspect in regards the gameplay. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, it’s the hope that kills you.
Realms of Arkania: Star Trail takes place after the events of Blade of Destiny, with the beginning of the adventure placing great importance on the acquisition of an exquisite artifact known as the Salamander Stone. Not only is it crucial to locate the Salamander Stone on the long journey ahead, but also to decide whether it belongs in the hands of Ingramosch, a Dwarf ambassador, or if it should be taken elsewhere in return for a smattering of Ducats (the in-game currency). At your behest is a varied party that includes a Warrior, a Sorceress, a Druid, a Silvan Elf, a Rogue, and a Dwarf. Where the adventure leads this merry band of adventurers is up to you…
The relatively sparse cutscenes tell you all you need to know about the quality, or lack thereof, to expect from the visuals. With poorly animated character models, a rather pixelated presentation that wouldn’t look out of place in the early to mid 2000s and a real deficiency in excitement, the disappointment is confounded by audio that randomly disappears and the non-existence of voiceovers. And the out of date visuals are commonplace throughout with a dull colour palette used in the environments, which, when coupled with a clunky user-interface for inventory management and such, makes for an old school experience of the wrong kind. So much for bringing the game up to date, eh?
Focusing solely on the narrative and there’s a lot to take in for those unfamiliar with this world; plenty of reading is in order. During the first-person roaming in any settlement though, partaking in conversations and asking a selection of pre-set questions is the main source for gathering information about the task ahead, with anyone wandering about seemingly being a prime candidate to talk to. The problem is, folk in general can’t be bothered answering a raft of questions, if any, and appear to lose interest in the conversation swiftly. Furthermore, actually getting answers that offer anything useful in regards the quests in progress is slim. And there goes the player’s interest, most likely.
The settlements also play host to a few useful places such as merchant shops, blacksmiths, temples, taverns and inns. Taverns offer the most interesting activities, like entertaining the crowd via dancing or playing an instrument and the devious art of pick-pocketing. You won’t see these actions play out, which is a shame, however there’s a great depth to the character stats determining the chance of success; this ensures choosing the correct member of the party reaps the best rewards. Depending on the difficulty setting, you may need a good hearty meal here before walking over to an inn for a bit of well-earned kip to avoid any unnecessary health degradation and stamina loss – yes, it’s one of those RPGs where you’re as likely to die out of battle as you are in it, through various means including illness and starvation.
In order to traverse the land, you must use a map full of nodes that work as an over-world, although the nodes will only branch out the further you venture. That’s the joy of exploration, but what isn’t joyous is watching a line move on a map between nodes at a slow pace, which is broken up further by a need to rest at a camp. Given that there’s a loading screen for the camp every single time, it becomes monotonous and increasingly boring with every journey. Once set up though, it allows you to rest, send out characters for supplies, use skills etc. Despite never seeing the foraging and such, it appears to make good use of the attributes possessed by the heroes, however the results are often erratic; you’re likely to find next to nothing as you are a massive haul, in the same spot.
Another thing the travelling can lead to is the opportunity for encounters to occur, which can range from a casual meeting with a friendly stranger to an all-out battle. And it’s the battling that’s the most intriguing part of the journeying, with third-person turn-based combat in place as you fight against Orcs, fellow humans, zombies, and more. Each character has action points to use on their turn in order to move into position, strike their foe with a weapon or cast a spell, with defensive and aggressive stances as options depending on how you want to play it tactically.
The combat could be mildly enjoyable, but given the old school nature of whether your attacks will be successful or not, it’s the equivalent of seeing Storm Troopers – you know, the hilariously inaccurate gun-wielders of the Star Wars universe – having a gun duel at times. This leads to a back and forth of missed attacks, which can go on for a fair few turns if you’re really unlucky. What doesn’t help from a tactical standpoint is the fact that there are no health bars for the enemies, so you’re never sure how far away from victory you are. Visually these parts can be pretty horrid too, with awful looking environments and terrible movement animations, which makes the ‘lag’ that happens occasionally quite baffling.
So far, and it must be said that Realms of Arkania: Star Trail is not great. Unfortunately there are a lot of random glitches and bugs that occur, with the most irritating problems leading to being unable to travel anywhere or not access the inventory menu. Other, slightly less concerning issues see remnants of previously opened menus staying on-screen after returning to the map, the character portraits disappearing completely from where it shows your party, and various pieces of the scenery not rendering properly within the settlements and such. And that’s just scratching the surface to be honest.
From a modern gamer’s point-of-view, Realms of Arkania: Star Trail is a laborious experience that drains any potential fun out of proceedings with the monotonous travelling, the repetitive and often pointless conversations, and some turn-based combat that’s way behind the times. Whilst the depth to the amount of attributes is impressive and the narrative could be interesting, the game fails to help the player get hooked in with a very off-putting UI and far too much to take in at once. Those who love a gruelling RPG that’s stuck in the past may find a bit of enjoyment, but even then the bugs will soon turn them off.
Don’t pack your bags yet, for I wouldn’t recommend adventuring into Realms of Arkania: Star Trail on Xbox One.