Review: Silversword

By Sean Clancy 17 Dec 2012 0
Not housebroken.

It's worth noting, from the get-go, that Silversword is a role-playing game in the purest, most traditional sense of the term. This Bard's Tale-inspired first-person RPG from developer Mario Gaida often seems like it's trying to throw the worst sins of role-play's past at the player: confusing navigation, an over-reliance high-fantasy tropes such as goblins and orcs, clunky menus (addressed, partially, in a recent update), and so on. It's not a polished game. Luckily, it doesn't have to be.

Because every time Silversword makes you wonder if the hallmarks of gaming's past are best left there, it gives you two more reasons why that's a load of warg droppings. Polish? Polish is for games that don't have seven-member parties squaring off against undead armies with twenty-plus soldiers. And damn if everyone doesn't have a broadsword.

Our heroes' journey begins on a remote colony island with a semi-forgotten history of bloody purges courtesy of those aforementioned baddies. Surprise surprise, guess who show up again to ransack J.R.R. Tolkien's favorite holiday resort?

Standard high-fantasy plotting aside, Silversword does manage to craft a narrative outside of the “Fabled Hero” stories that populate modern RPGs like Skyrim. In part, this is because it's hard to focus your game around one all-powerful hero when you're playing as several. Key to first-person RPGs of the Bard's Tale stripe is the ability to form your own fellowship of do-gooders, rolling pre-selected characters or individually crafting each septuplet of your crew. In Silversword, the first four members of your team are the front line, and are the ones who deal and receive melee damage. The back three slots are where you stick your ranged fighters—archers, mages, rogues, etc.

A basic set up, then, would have the front four slotted as warriors and paladins, perhaps with an odd monk or particularly dextrous thief. But of course, your party composition is entirely up to you, and need not be basic at all. Monks and magicians? Go for it. An all-bard INXS cover band? You're the boss. (Also: probably screwed.) For my part, I went full Peter Jackson and formed the core of my party with four sneaky hobbitses, backed by two elven archers and one high-born magician. Ill-advised, yes. But, hey, burglars gonna burgle.

Haven't gotten around to remodeling the basement yet.

And while party composition in Silversword is often a delicate balancing act between usefulness and fandom, character races and classes themselves are simple, streamlined affairs. The former, as the law of the land dictates, influence stat rolls. Humans are average, hobbits are crafty, dwarves are strong. Both race and class offer bonuses which kick in every few levels, with my team of sneak-thieves getting harder to hit and better at burgles each time they visited the training hall to level up.

Oh yes, the training hall. Did I mention you have to go to an actual place within the game in order to level up? Like, walk there, instead of just suddenly jumping up a level in the midst of a knife fight with a skeleton? I know, right? It sounds awful, but after a while you start to look forward to it. And your characters are all, “Huzzah, time to make roads towards the Training Hall, friends!” And you're all, “Yeah, you would say that, Sidric the Magician. That's such a Sidric the Magician thing to say.”

Classes, individually, don't offer much in the way of choices mid-battle. It's simple, not oversimplified. Characters may defend, attack, cast a spell, use an item or a special ability if they have one. Rogues, for example, can hide in the shadows, giving them the ability to attack more-distant enemies, plus a chance for extra damage and insta-killing critical hits. Of course, that's only if they're not lying on the ground unconscious because they got one-shotted by a rat because they're a friggin' hobbit. Ahem. Did I mention the game is hard? It's hard.

Silversword's quests are familiar without seeming tired, and the game doesn't suffer from the kind of tedious bloat of activities that comes when developers try to pad out their title with several variations on the same dull mission. Sure, you've rescued the X before, and found the Z, and looked for the Hidden Y of Ancient Power. So... you're likely do those things again, yeah? Especially if you're the sort who plays enough of these sorts of games to be used to fantasy cliches. You will do these things here, too.

Welcome... to High-Fantasy Island.

And oh, that world. While the first-person semi-3D navigation isn't gorgeous (or, to reiterate, all that easy to navigate), it is serviceably gritty, and bits of flavor-text and the omni-present enemies do impart a sense that your band is barely eking out their victories on an island warzone, a besieged fantasy wasteland in a perpetual cycle of dismantling and reconstruction. (The opening ruins, where your party spawns, are essentially a refugee camp for the frock-wearing, lute-playing set.)

Epic is a term tossed around with reckless abandon these days, but it's one that perfectly defines Silversword. It's a title that manages both breadth and astonishing depth without ever obfuscating the underlying systems that rule it, and one where players always know what they need to do. Namely, adventure.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some evil to exorcise, and Sidric will not stop yammering.


4 out of 5




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