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Choice of Life: Middle Ages 2 Review

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If you’ve ever stuck a thumb into a Fighting Fantasy or Lone Wolf book, saving your spot in case you’ve made a wrong decision, then Choice of Life: Middle Ages 2 is for you. It distills the spirit of your favourite Choose Your Own Adventure books, and delivers them in a video game format. 

This isn’t the first game to deliver on that fantasy, of course. There’s Choice of Life: Middle Ages, for one, but notably we’ve been graced with the exemplary Steve Jackson’s Sorcery!, and Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf, both of which have taken their respective books and added video game bells and whistles. Their worlds have been lovingly rendered, the dice rolls and inventories taken care of by a virtual butler, and – in Sorcery’s case – a wonderful timeline slider has allowed you to effectively do the job of your thumb. It rewound you to where you wanted to be. 

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There’s nothing wrong with having fun in the courtyard…

Choice of Life: Middle Ages 2, it should be said, cannot compete with either Steve Jackson or Joe Dever’s games. The production values aren’t as high, the writing isn’t anywhere near as involving, and it can’t stretch to that virtual butler who would have made things so much easier. But what it does offer is a frankly bewildering amount of choice and depth, both of which make it a worthy B-lister for people who have exhausted those other games. 

Rather than take you on a rags to riches romp, Choice of Life: Middle Ages 2 spins it 180 degrees. This is a riches to rags tale, as you start as a prince and soon find yourself with nothing. Assassins fail to kill you, but you’re left outside the city walls without any ring, crown or seal that would mark you as royalty. We’re in the Middle Ages, so nobody can pull up BBC News to check your face against the prince’s. You’re left wandering the wilderness in the hope that you can find the bandits who attacked you, retrieve your ring and return home. 

That’s only a fraction of the story that’s told in Choice of Life: Middle Ages 2, but a lot of what happens here persists through the rest. You don’t quite find out who was responsible for the attack, and you gain a familiar in the form of a magical cat. Both hide mysteries that you resolve as you move through the game’s chapters. This is a game that unravels over the course of five or six hours, which is made all the more remarkable by the sheer number of plot permutations within. There are plenty of divergent paths to take, and they all have impact across chapters. 

In sheer ‘volume of stuff’ terms, Choice of Life: Middle Ages 2 is a behemoth. We can only imagine the word count that must be hidden behind every choice. Somewhere, in a designer’s office, there is a corkboard with maps, pins and strings running between them, as this is also a gargantuan web of ramifications. Bravo to Blazing Planet Studio: this is intricate, and you can feel the weight of the many decisions you have made on your back. 

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Of all the choices, keep dancing

In other categories, Choice of Life: Middle Ages 2 stumbles a bit. The art is a little hit and miss, which makes sense when you consider just how many backgrounds, characters and choice cards there must be. It’s also a little inelegant to play on the controller. Moving around the map, in particular, is a combination of both left and right analogue sticks, when it needn’t have been so complicated. Making choices is done with the A button, but moving to a location is done with Y, and we’re still wondering why there needs to be a distinction. 

It’s also unforgiving in the most random of ways. You are given health and other health-adjacent stats as you progress through the game. Make a wrong choice, and you will often lose a heart. Reach zero, and you will die, returning you to the start of the ‘scene’, so you can play through it again – but better, this time. You will return to the health that you had at the start of the scene, which makes sense. 

The problem is that it’s all too easy to reach a state where you are clinging to one last heart. Any mistake, no matter how arbitrary, will send you back to the start of the scene, again with one heart. So, you take a different path, and again lose another heart, restarting you once more. Since scenes are long, this yo-yo-ing back to the game menus got on our medieval tits. There are precious few opportunities to reclaim your health, so you can be stuck on one-strike, and being on one-strike feels like teetering near death, waiting for a push. 

Choice of Life: Middle Ages 2 hates you saving, too. Save in the middle of a scene (just before an important choice, for example) and it will laugh in your face. If you choose to load that save, you will be back to the start of the scene. It stops you inching slowly through the story, making every possible correct choice, which is arguably a positive. But it also arguably isn’t. There are plenty of visual novel players, or people who stuck thumbs into their Fighting Fantasy books (e.g. me), who want to play perfectly. Choice of Life: Middle Ages 2 doesn’t allow it. 

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Them pesky squirrels

The result is a slightly clumsy, hacked-together-with-cardboard adventure book in a video game format. But with that ramshackle-ness comes a certain amount of charm. The choices in particular never seem to stop. It reminds of Reigns, as every last decision in the game – combat can be broken into a dozen independent dodges and parries – is offered to the player. You won’t read more than a few sentences before being given another choice. The results of those choices are often arbitrary (which will be an acquired taste by itself), but the fact that you are constantly served them up is a boon.

We’d have liked Choice of Life: Middle Ages 2 to be a little more weird and wacky, as it sticks pretty solidly to its low-fantasy roots, but it’s still capable of quirks. We interfered in the marriage between two trolls, and performed in a bard version of stand-up comedy. Just as you feel like you’re rummaging in a fantasy author’s cliche drawer, something hops out and surprises. 

There are plenty of visual novels, narrative games and Choose Your Own Adventure ports that do all of this better. Choice of Life: Middle Ages 2 is somewhere in the middle of the pack, mainly thanks to humdrum art and a story that meanders when it should thrust. But while it’s unremarkable in most categories, there are a couple in which it excels. You’d be hard-pushed to find a game as rammed with choices, and as deep as Choice of Life: Middle Ages 2. Is that enough for a purchase? The choice, appropriately, is yours.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Well written and easy to read
  • Frankly ludicrous number of choices
  • Plenty to work through
Cons:
  • Art is middling
  • Failure is unsatisfying
  • Rarely does anything that makes you take notice
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Samustai
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One
  • Release date and price - 9 February 2024 | £5.79
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Well written and easy to read</li> <li>Frankly ludicrous number of choices</li> <li>Plenty to work through</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Art is middling</li> <li>Failure is unsatisfying</li> <li>Rarely does anything that makes you take notice</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Samustai</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One <li>Release date and price - 9 February 2024 | £5.79</li> </ul>Choice of Life: Middle Ages 2 Review
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