When you think of the hidden object puzzle adventure (HOPA) genre, it’s almost unthinkable that one such game would feature a bit of horror or some jump scares. In fact, even the scarily titled Nightmares from the Deep series by Artifex Mundi isn’t really frightening. After all, this genre is meant to deliver a relaxing affair. Endless Fables: Dark Moor is looking to change that though, with the inclusion of monsters and a supposedly terrifying setting – Scotland. Does it tick the necessary boxes for a good scarefest full of great puzzles, or will you be left unsatisfied with the overall experience?
While Endless Fables: Dark Moor on Xbox One certainly attempts to send chills down your spine in the hopes of getting your adrenaline pumping, it fails in achieving this more often than not. So that means your enjoyment is reliant upon the Scottish folklore inspired tale and the quality of the puzzles. Whether that’s enough of a draw, I’m not entirely sure.
Dark Moor is the third instalment of the Pamela Cavendish chronicles in Endless Fables, which immediately throws a spanner in the works as the previous two games aren’t available on the aforementioned console. Thus, it’s difficult to make a connection with the protagonist or get a feel for her back-story. Nevertheless, the story here is that after returning to Scotland to celebrate her niece’s birthday, Pamela encounters a ghastly banshee who kidnaps the little girl. Our veteran adventurer must travel to an island where the locals have been haunted for many moons in order to save young Nora.
Focusing on the positives first, and there are a decent selection of monstrous characters featured in the narrative including the supernatural water-based horse known as the Kelpie. It also begins relatively well in the scares department by way of the damn creepy banshee and a child bleeding from the eyes. Unfortunately the story will struggle to capture your attention and the fear factor soon wanes; especially when you’re faced against foes like a demon teddy bear and a silly looking venus flytrap. There doesn’t appear to be an awful lot of recognisable Scottish mythology references either and to add further insult, the odd resident who speaks with a Scottish accent sounds incredibly unconvincing. Otherwise, the voice acting could actually be considered acceptable for the job.
As is usually the case in HOPAs, inventory puzzles are front and centre for progression, which can lead to logical solutions needed such as using sticky tape to piece together an old postcard or a cloth to clean a statue. On the flipside there are some more obtuse ideas, like it may require you to obtain a few fireflies as part of a makeshift lantern. The only real issue here is how it occasionally gives you a large handful of items to almost fill the inventory in one go, as if the developers – Sunward Games – got lazy.
In terms of mini-games, and well, these are as reliable as ever with a couple of fresh ideas present alongside familiar types. Activities seen before include moving a Knight chess piece to touch every space on a board, sliding things about until they’re appropriately aligned, and rotating a labyrinth style maze in order to retrieve what’s inside. While each of them are enjoyably challenging, it’s a family tree puzzle that must be completed by solving riddles that’s the real standout.
Disappointingly though, the mini-games in place for the boss battles get boring very swiftly because all merely involve choosing runes that don’t match the enemy’s runes. For some reason the design choice also ensures it’s tricky to actually see and select which rune you wish to pick. Not ideal.
The only other facet to discuss is one that should be the star of the adventure – hidden object scenes. These are in short supply, but those featured do at least provide varied hand-drawn areas to search for lists of items within and many require additional interactions in order to locate what’s needed. Whether you’re trying to find a selection of fish-based products on a stall, or brooches with letters engraved in them, it’s fun to participate in such tasks. You can’t knock the visual quality of the scenes either, with each location looking beautifully dark and spooky which allows the lighting effects to shine – much like the rest of the environments throughout.
When all is done in the main campaign, lasting around three hours, you’ll probably want a little more bang for your buck. That’s where the bizarre bonus chapter comes into play, delivering a short tale centred on a shamen and a possessed cat. It only adds less than an hour of gameplay, however it’s silly, has a few decent puzzles and is entertaining nonetheless.
Overall, Endless Fables: Dark Moor on Xbox One does itself no favours by claiming horror and scares as a feature because, ultimately, it loses steam in that department after a single scary moment. Fortunately the mini-games are of a good standard and the hidden object scenes are enjoyable to scour. As is usually the case for Artifex Mundi games, Dark Moor pleases the eyes with the visuals too. But those positives can’t mask the uninteresting storytelling, the repetitive boss style battles or the slightly lazy inventory-focused goings on.
If you’re after something scary, don’t bother with Endless Fables: Dark Moor as it won’t live up to expectations. In fact, it’s only really worth picking up if you love HOPAs and it’s discounted in a sale.