There’s something comforting about settling down to an Artifex Mundi hidden object game. Every couple of months they arrive, and you can be sure they won’t be much different than the last. You could sneer and call it lazy – and you’d be right – but the reassuring similarity means you can hop from one to the other and know exactly what’s going on, albeit with a slightly different tale to tell.
Before we get to that tale, let’s do the customary paragraph about what a hidden object game is. These are story-focused games where you get a painted scene to scan with a cursor. Often you will find objects to pick up and store in your inventory for later, similar to point-and-click adventures. Other times you will find puzzles that require those items or demand solving on their own (think sliding puzzles and logic problems, a step below Professor Layton in difficulty). Finally, there’s the eponymous hidden object puzzling, which shows you a jumble sale of various items and pushes you to find specific items within it. This is the essence of hidden object games, and there are absolutely dozens of them out there.
Persian Nights 2: The Moonlight Veil is less a continuation of Persian Nights: Sand of Wonders – the first in the series – and more a story that is told in the same world, so worry not if you’re new to it. It’s also less an Arabian Nights story, and more a magical-fantasy story that has some lovely Middle-Eastern backdrops and the odd mythical beast. It works well, as it’s a visual style that we don’t often get to explore.
The setup is great, although it soon gets tossed away for all-too-familiar Artifex Mundi cliches. It’s a lunar eclipse of the moons Ahuya and Mainyu, and it’s during this period that magic is heightened to the point that combustible accidents can occur. Everyone is barred from using inherent magic, and amulets are handed out to dampen magic, playing out like a magical version of Lent or Ekadashi. It’s a great concept: what happens to a magic-dependent society when they can’t use magic, even just for a wee bit?
It’s such a shame that it all gets tossed away. As is common to every Artifex Mundi game – and we do mean every – a damsel gets captured by an enemy, with the purpose of using them as a sacrifice in a ritual. We’re not quite at the point where we see it as endearing and self-parodying yet: it’s all a bit boring. It’s particularly stark here, as the motive of the baddie is never explained, so the ritual is just a big firework display that you slowly move towards. There are a couple of little twists on the way there, but they’re not enough to shake the feeling of a formula.
Persian Nights 2: The Moonlight Veil doesn’t always conform, though. It has some nice touches that at least push it away from other Artifex Mundi adventures. Over the course of the game you accumulate Moonlings – little imp creatures who are attuned to a specific element. You’ll have to feed them, though, so you’re on the lookout for fire, ice and other resources for them to hoover up. Once they’re stuffed to the gills, you can then use them to burn away plants or build bridges out of ice. This give-and-take from the environment is fun, and means that you’re doing an additional step whenever you enter a new room: where’s the fire and ice in a room, and how do I get to it?
There’s a small hiccup in how it’s pulled off, though. It’s not visually clear if a Moonling is ‘full’ or ‘empty’, and some actions will use up their stocks, while others won’t. It means you’re never quite sure if you actually have a locked-and-loaded Moonling in your inventory. More often than not, you’ll try to use one, and find out that they’re running empty.
Another thing that sets Persian Nights 2: The Moonlight Veil apart from other hidden object games is that it doesn’t have much hidden object puzzling at all. There are probably six or seven in total, and only one of them is what you’d call ‘conventional’ with a shopping list of different items to find. In almost all cases, you’re looking for lots of just one type of item – twelve glowing mushrooms, magical effects, rope – and it’s just not as satisfying. With only one, repeated item to find (which is commonly glowing to make it even easier), you are absolutely powering through the puzzle and getting it done in seconds. Artifex Mundi games offer joy by allowing you to go through the motions – there’s often nothing too taxing about them – but this goes too far to the extreme.
What takes the place of the hidden objects is ‘process’ puzzles. If you’ve played an Artifex Mundi game, you will be aware of what these are. You’ll be given a recipe or instructions in order to make something. You first need to collect the items for the recipe, and then bring them back to a cooking table, workbench, herbalist’s table, etc. From there, it’s a game of follow-the-recipe: put that thing in the pestle and mortar, take it out and put it in the cauldron, heat the cauldron, and so on. There’s no way to fail these sections. There’s a small amount of joy to be had from them, but we do mean small, and they have almost always been the weakest elements of these titles. Unfortunately, Persian Nights 2 makes them the focus.
The other small deviation from the norm is talking to characters. Talking! Can you imagine it? We’re being facetious, but Artifex Mundi titles rarely give you the ability to choose dialogue paths, so this is actually new. You can choose a topic and then hear what the character has to say about it. It’s extremely rudimentary stuff, as you often need to hear everything to progress regardless (it’s hardly The Walking Dead and their approach to branching choices), but it’s nice to have a bit of agency for once.
Everything else is cut and paste from other titles. There isn’t a single puzzle that we haven’t played in another Artifex Mundi title, and there’s the usual friendly hint system that circles important stuff in the environment or lets you bypass problematic puzzles (hands up, we used it once on a sliding puzzle at the end of the game). On the patented Artifex Mundi difficulty-o-meter, Persian Nights 2: The Moonlight Veil sits at about a 3 out of 10. This is one of the easiest hidden object games out there (ignore what we said about the sliding puzzle), mainly down to the extremely simple hidden object hunting and the dominance of process puzzles.
Should Persian Nights 2: The Moonlight Veil be your first step into hidden object games? We’d say no, as it’s so stripped back that it fails to let the good stuff shine. We suggest that you play one that’s more fully featured, so you can get a more emblematic taste of what they offer: something like the Nightmares of the Deep or Dark Arcana series, which also happen to be more fun and campy. Persian Nights 2 is oh-so-serious, aside from the cute creatures who hitch a ride.
Persian Nights 2: The Moonlight Veil on Xbox is best described as an anticlimax. It starts well with a wonderful setting – magical lunar eclipses and techno-Persian backdrops – but then fumbles them completely, reverting back to all the usual Artifex Mundi cliches. Its puzzling, too, is limp, with virtually no hidden object puzzles and compromises made for the sake of accessibility. There’s no doubting it looks beautiful, but underneath the veil there’s very little of substance.