You know those minigames where you need to manipulate beams of light to open a locked door or hack any number of electrical items? Well, here in Archaica: The Path of Light on Xbox One is a game full of that tested and true gameplay trope.
Archaica: The Path of Light is a puzzle game dedicated to a mechanic typically relegated to minigame status. By using mirrors, players must guide beams of lights to illuminate crystals and activate the lightwell in each level before progressing. Whereas the minigame version of bending light can be a quick throwaway experience designed to be completed in various ways and not requiring too much thought, Archaica is a deceptively tricky puzzle game that, due to its difficulty, feels a bit more old-school than recent puzzlers.
Played in an isometric view with a grid-based field, Archaica is packed full of hidden goodies. Most levels will have glowing stone hieroglyphs that, if all are collected in the level, provide information on many of the in-game objects you are using to direct the light beams. These are stored in the Almanach, but there isn’t a way to access this information after unlocking it in some sort of compendium.
Other times, these collectibles will provide backstory of an ancient world who believe that every so often a being known as the Light Bearer comes to walk the legendary Path of Light and save the world from a higher being and untold disaster. Even with these short vignettes though, at times the story feels convoluted and quickly becomes an exercise in collecting items for the sake of it rather than being invested in the story. The true ending though – unlocked after obtaining all achievements and visiting the Totem one final time – did bring a smile to my face.
Archaica attempts to world-build in a similar vein to other puzzle games such as Pneuma: Breath of Life and Portal, using the environment to make up most of the story. It falls somewhere between the middle of them both in its attempt.
The hieroglyphs aren’t the only collectibles to find: there are also crystals dotted around each stage to pick up. These are incredibly useful as they act as a hint system that allows you to highlight five squares on the grid, and it will tell you if an object needs to be placed there. It won’t tell you which object – you will still need to work out if it is a mirror, converter, divider or any other of the items you play around with – but just knowing where to place them is a big help regardless.
There are even hidden levels to be found, but only if you can manipulate the light in other ways. Certain levels have awkwardly placed switches that will only activate when the light hits their sensor. Unlocking one of these will release a lock from a bigger stone to reveal the hidden level. These are trickier to reach and will require a lot of trial and error to get there, but the reward for doing so is yet another, even more difficult level!
Despite the difficulty, Archaica: The Path of Light aims to offer a gentle and relaxing experience for the player. There are five distinct areas ranging from deserts to swamplands and jungles; each come with a unique design and colour palette. The bright light beams have an almost neon look to them and this makes them instantly visible against whichever backdrop they are on. Sometimes when mixing light colours it can be trickier to make out whether they have mixed properly or not, but for the most part Archaica has a very appealing aesthetic.
This extends aurally as well, to an extent. The music is more ambient in its approach, and whilst there isn’t a huge selection it does its job as your brain fiddles with the solution.
Archaica has 12 achievements in total, and as mentioned before they tie back into the game. From the menu you can access the Totem, which will record progress to the achievements down the side of a stone totem. By unlocking an achievement, you also activate one of the side stones, and the Totem itself then illuminates. Unlocking all 12 will reveal extra lore and a special cutscene that does help bring everything together.
The achievements themselves are all related to story progression so, providing you are finding every secret and unlocking all the stone keys, you shouldn’t miss any achievement.
Archaica: The Path of Light on Xbox One is by no means an original puzzle game – light bending is up there in terms of repeat usage with the pipe construction mechanic for minigames – but what it brings is a challenging example of light manipulation that differentiates from others. The hint system helps massively and means that Archaica doesn’t gatekeep for players that would perhaps struggle. But then it also doesn’t gift the answer; you still feel the sense of reward for completing each of the 50+ levels. There is a story present but it is not a requisite for understanding the game. You can choose to invest as much time into the story as you like, and it won’t detract from a very good and very well designed puzzle game.