As always, when reviewing a game with a number in the title, I tend to get a little worried that I’ve not played the first two games in the 9th Dawn series. I mean, why the 9th Dawn? How is that any different than the 8th, the 10th, or even the 900th? Thankfully – or not – these and many more questions weren’t able to answered, so I decided to treat Shadow of Erthil as a standalone title, before I sallied forth into its world. Coming from Valorware, it appears that what they have tried to do is shoehorn in just about every genre possible into this title, except possibly that of the first-person shooter. So, come with me to a game that wants to be all things for all, and see if it can pull it off.
So, the story first of all, and as far as I can make out you live in a land called Cadaltia, and quite fancy being an adventurer. You’ve cut your teeth smashing rats in an underground cellar, you’ve defeated the mighty spiders that live just outside of town, you’re armed with the very best pointed sticks that can be found in the forest, and you’re ready for the call to action. We are asked to travel to a nearby town, to assist the leader there with an issue she’s having, and then, as these games often do, it snowballs into a full blown epic quest, travelling from place to place, in an attempt to save the whole world from some oppressive evil.
With an idea of what we hope to achieve, we can begin to look at the rest of the game as well, and there is certainly an interesting visual look to it. Our character sprite, and indeed all those in-game, appear to be 2D, almost like they were cut straight from a Paper Mario game. When you change direction, you can clearly see that we are almost just a cardboard cutout of a figure, and so are all the many, many, many creatures that want to interact with you and ruin your day. Sound is limited to footsteps, attacks and some very pleasant music, and any conversations that you have with NPCs on your journey are displayed in the traditional text box style. There is a definite retro vibe running through the styling, but there’s nothing retro about the way the game handles the many creatures on screen at once; while the screen can get almost unbearably busy at times, the game engine copes admirably, never stuttering or slowing down.
The majority of 9th Dawn III is spent running about the place, in a top-down, almost 2D viewpoint, fighting the creatures that inhabit this world. Now, when you find towns that are dotted around the map, you can not only interact with the shopkeepers, you can also ask some of them to teach you skills, such as armour smithing or alchemy. These are dealt with as side missions, as the person doing the teaching will usually need you to “prove your worth” by performing a flavour of fetch quest – usually the collection of a number of animal parts or an item from the depths of a nearby dungeon. This is in addition to the main mission, which sees us trying to get an audience with the King to see what is happening.
Add to these missions the ability to craft a whole range of things, the ability to collect cards and play a game called Fyued, the chance to tame monsters and befriend them, all in addition to the regular above ground and underground exploring and loot gathering, and you can begin to see that there is very rarely a lack of things to involve yourself in. And that’s without even mentioning the best bit – a fishing mini-game.
Fighting, either in dungeons or in the wilds of the land, is a twin-stick affair, with movement handled by the left stick, and the direction of attacks by the right. This works very well, and it soon becomes second nature to walk backwards while attacking forward, using dodge whenever necessary. If you do become injured (and you will, believe me), you can either heal by standing still and doing nothing for a while, as the health regeneration is pretty strong, you can use a potion which will heal you immediately, or you can consume food items that will give extra health regeneration for a brief time. As you explore you will discover or craft better weapons and armour, and there are a multitude of different loadouts that you can make. Do you want heavy armour that can take a hit but slows you down, or lighter armour that makes you have increased agility? Do you prefer melee weapons, ranged weapons or a bow and arrow setup? There are capes, rings, necklaces and every other kind of personal adornment you can think of, all of which makes you stronger.
As you fight and level up, you are given points to put into one of five categories, covering the usual basics of Strength, Dexterity and Endurance, amongst others. Added to this are ability coins that can be found in out of the way places, to then be spent on unlocking extra abilities that can assist you, such as extra physical defence, extra health and so on. But further still, as you perform certain actions you can also gain more rewards – anything from an amount of EXP points to scrolls that give you individual points in the skill tree of your choice. However, the way the levelling up of the fighting skills works is a little different; depending on what you equip, you begin to accrue points in that particular skill, like two-handed weapons, swords, bows and so on, with certain weapons needing to reach specific levels before being used.
It’s safe to say that 9th Dawn III: Shadow of Erthil has a lot going on and the developers have done a great job shoe-horning all this content in. However, a little time on instructions or tutorials would have made things a lot better. For instance, in the crafting and cooking initially things will be a hideous failure. Luckily, even failures teach you something and rank up the skill, so on your next attempt you have a better chance at succeeding.
I have to also admit that catching creatures and having them fight for you is a great idea. The fly in the ointment though is the in-game economy, sadly. As you explore, you will find gold, but it is hard to get a large amount together, and you need a lot of stuff to catch the creatures. The idea is that you get a creature to chase you, and drop bait that will make it feel more kindly towards you. When it’s had enough bait, red hearts will arise and it’s time to drop a trap. If the creature is sufficiently pacified, the trap will catch it, turning the hearts green and letting you interact with the creature, converting it to your cause. The problem is that the bait is so expensive, and the creatures need such a lot of it, that it is hard to be able to buy the stuff you need. The same goes for items from the shops; they are highly priced and that means buying weapons and armour is pretty much out of the question, certainly at the start of the game.
At the end of the day it’s pretty tricky to put a score on 9th Dawn III: Shadow of Erthil on Xbox One, as despite the fact that it has everything but the kitchen sink in it, much of it is poorly explained; the crafting in particular. The creature catching and fishing elements are great fun but way too expensive to fully enjoy, the map is largely useless with the fast travel mechanic costing way too much to consider using, and all in all there are elements which feel rough and unpolished. Having said that, I’ve loved playing it: what we have here with 9th Dawn III is a game that is a great deal of fun almost in spite of its features, rather than because of them. It’s big, it’s hard and it’s brutally unforgiving, but strangely it’s equally as tough to put down.