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Pharaonic Review

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Since the original Dark Souls launched to critical acclaim in 2011, many RPGs have tried to follow its recipe for challenging but rewarding gameplay. Developers have tried to emulate the features that the Dark Souls series is best known for, swapping the save anywhere mentality and trash mobs which fill in the main bits of combat, for a spaced out checkpoint system and enemies that can be a real threat no matter how small they are. Pharaonic, developed by Milkstone Studios is one of these games. Taking place in Ancient Egypt, Pharaonic is a sidescrolling RPG with challenging combat encounters and a gear system that lets you choose how you want to approach each fight – be it light and agile or tough and brutal – all while being set in the really gorgeous vistas of Egypt.

The story of Pharaonic is a little underwhelming and fairly simple. The all-powerful and immortal ruler of Egypt, The Red Pharaoh, goes into hiding after Egypt is invaded by the sea people. Players start the game as a prisoner in the dungeons, before being freed by a mysterious women and told they are chosen by the Gods. They must then venture forth to find out what has happened to the Red Pharaoh. Like the Dark Souls series, actual story elements are rare and most of the story is picked up from conversations with NPCs throughout the game. Although the actual depth to the story is somewhat shallow and unremarkable.

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Pharaonic allows players to customize their combat to suit their playstyle: Choosing between heavy armour which offers more protection from damage at the expense of speed or light armour to stay nimble but without much protection. Weapons are also split down into heavy and light categories, allowing players to choose to strike many times in quick succession or to use bigger and longer weapons to deal more damage to more enemies with a single swing. Drinking from a water flask restores health, but the flask has limited uses, and in a similar fashion to Dark Souls’ Estus flask, it refills when you pray at the shrines which also act as checkpoints.

As players progress, they gain experience which helps to level them up. Unlike most RPGs, levelling does not give skill points but rather raises the max cap for health, stamina and mana. If players want to use different categories of weapons, armour or backpacks (these provide different combat benefits during a fight) more effectively or without a negative to them, then skills must be purchased from special vendors throughout the world. These can be bought with Shabti Gems which can be found around the world in chests or on enemies.

The real meat of Pharaonic is in the combat and taking the brutally brilliant combat from 3D to 2D is no easy task. Overall the combat is a big success though. Taking the basic dodge and block mechanics, Pharaonic allows you to back-step quickly away from danger, roll past the threat, or to duck it entirely, before countering with a heavy or a light attack. Blocking and reposting also make an appearance and players must choose how to deal with each attack from these options. Each swing and manoeuvre must be calculated, taking into account their enemies’ reach, speed and strike patterns before deciding when to evade and strike back. Bear in mind though, the enemies can do the same in return.

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When combat really works, it flows smoothly from one move to the next forming a beautiful elaborate dance of death between dodges, blocks and strikes. However, when the rough edges of the combat system show up they are really noticeable. Often at times, attacks will still connect even if you’ve moved past the enemy in question, leaving some hits on players feeling cheap as they shouldn’t have connected. Enemy attack patterns also tend to have to be learned rather than observed as enemies don’t telegraph their follow on strikes meaning players never know if enemies will attack once, twice, or three times. This leaves a play it safe mentality where players must wait for enemies to finish their attack and then counter. This can really slow down the flow of combat leading to some dull and methodical wait-and-strike encounters which sees plenty of rinse and repeating. This is especially prominent early on in the game and combat can seem slow and repetitive.

Throughout the levels there are different types of traps littered on floors and walls to catch out unobservant players. These traps deal a large amount of damage to players and are best avoided; they can also be used to damage enemies if they happen to walk into them. The problem I found with the traps however, was that even if I did spot them, trying to avoid them by rolling over them still left me getting hit. This often felt like I was being hit by a lot of cheap deaths.

By the midway point in Pharaonic, a lot of the enemies can seem very similar. The diversity of enemies is often narrowed down to light, heavy, elite and shielded, with some variations on weapons. The bosses on the other hand have an interesting range of visuals and moves; from the intimidating Warden to the skinless spellcaster that is Queen Cerce, the bosses all have a distinct feel to each fight and make players think on their feet or face death.

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The thing I love the most about Pharaonic is the stunning art direction and environments; characters and the world seem chunky and cartoony in a way that is wonderfully stylised. While traversing levels, the exquisite vistas in the background are highlighted by the panning camera that allow you to get a true sense of scale and highlights just how beautiful the landscape is. Which is really useful because checkpoints are few and far between, meaning that deaths can often take you back quite far along the path as you try and work your way back to where you died. This leads to an awful lot of backtracking along the same series of paths and back through all the unavoidable combat encounters, which can be a huge pain after the fifth time. Often at times, two or three tough challenges can follow on from each other, robbing you of your invaluable water flask uses. Returning to a shrine refills your flask but also respawns enemies back, leading to progress on certain paths feeling like an endurance event. Facing a boss with limited health flasks and mana can lead to frustrating encounters.

Despite some issues and frustrations with Pharaonic I enjoyed my time with it. For the most part combat was enjoyable and flowed effortlessly, all while the beautiful scenery kept me in awe. Unfortunately the sparse checkpoints, tiresome backtracking and cheap or unfair deaths left a sour taste in my mouth. For all of this however, Pharaonic is a great game if you value challenging combat with some great scenery, and for less than £15 it’s worth a romp.

Blake (Crazyguy73)
Blake (Crazyguy73)
Pretty much born with a controller in my hands I've been gaming since as early as i can remember. From the time I first laid my grubby mitts on Doom I've loved games. I play pretty much everything I can, except sports games, if I wanted to play sports I'd go outside.
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