124 people found this review helpful
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0.6 hrs last two weeks / 716.4 hrs on record
Posted: Jun 20, 2017 @ 10:31am
Updated: Jan 6 @ 2:31pm

Early Access Review
0.7.0 UPDATE
JULY 2018

• One of a kind, non-player centric, physics-driven game world
• HQ, immersive, realistic atmosphere with low fantasy elements
• Provocative, complex, physics-based melee combat
• True-to-character/object/surface acollision
• Engaging arena modes for instant action
• Organic story mode narrative
• Real-time, text-based dialog
• Highly optimized
• Challenging AI
• Rich mythos

• Perplexing, often cryptic character control
• The law of hardcore

• No in-depth combat tutorial (need is great!)
• Narrow array of customizable game options
• Incomplete, cliffhanger story mode
• Incomplete 'persistent arena' mode
• Limited, somewhat awkward camera

XA/SG=Exanima/Sui Generis
NPC=Non-Player Character
PC=Player Character
BM=Bare Mettle
MS=Motion Synthesis

The future of gaming has never been more exciting to me! In XA, you are witness to the footnote to possibly the finest open world, fantasy RPG of all time, SG. Already, there are supreme demonstrations of innovation that not a single other game can match.

As an initiate, you must feel your way to get your bearings. Petulance and impatience are swiftly and consistently punished with failure. XA demands respect, though it's not immensely challenging—at least not typically. Hand-holding features like quick-saving, automapping, waypoints/indicators, fast travel, visible health bars, healing items, regenerating health, and UI tooltips/hints are mostly or completely absent. Then there's the combat itself, where precision and timing win above all else and patience is greatly rewarded.

XA's controls and MS are typically why beginners quickly become frustrated, confused, and/or give up. The camera—especially in relation to the controls—is unusual. Skeptics and blockheads will see broken controls and drunken ragdolls. The persistent and enthusiastic will see glorious potential and thrilling melee combat. This is the delimma of marketing mediocre AAA cash cows vs. innovative, quality titles personified.

The violence is brutal and incredibly satisfying! Mishaps can lead to decisive or fatal outcomes. What you do, intentional or incidental, is from your creative input. While offense currently consists of only four attacks, MS allows for excess in the control of avatars. You guide the path of attacks via cursor, which engages the torso and arms. Other exciting benefits of MS are the differences in style that players can develop and the significant role that preferred equipment plays in applying a style.

Footwork—as in martial arts—is a major aspect of combat and it affects melee control massively. In war mode, rigid step movement is used to simulate balance, maintain distancing, and/or create additional momentum for strikes. This movement has 360° of freedom and may follow linear or curved paths depending on how the mouse is directed.

For direct defense, persons try to intercept trajectories of opposing strikes and can shift from or neutralize an attack's trajectory. These measures are reliable, but the player may need to reorient to guarantee success. Some two-handers have less reliable parrying. Fortunately—thanks to how flexible the combat is—players can work around this.

Since all objects are fully simulated, they inherit proper collision. Bodies possess anatomic vital points, and though surface penetration is not implemented, cuts and thrusts can pass through light and medium armors or through gaps. Blades cut all along their surface. Drawn cuts are especially devastating. Blunt force weapons can penetrate any armor by delivering hard impacts, but weapons—no matter their weight or energy—can glance off armor.

Unprecedented, emergent gameplay through highly dynamic interactions with AI is BM's unicorn. Until recently, BM's ideal was but a mythical beast.

You'll find that NPCs have variable, dynamic behaviors and they can change depending on their interactions with others and the environment. In theory, they can form alliances, then betray them. Group up or stand alone at will. Become hostile, then peaceful or even friendly. In practice, behaviors aren't that wild, but the possibilities (and more) are there. Due to BM's "incremental" solution, there are virtually unlimited states for NPCs to mingle in. Obviously, the undead are limited.

For now, dialog has only modest chatter and gameplay functions. However, BM is committed to expanding it to such a level that anything you might want to say in-character will be covered. The system is seamless and even apt for combat! Multiple conversations within one group can occur at once. While the dialog is preselected, it will also be contextual, so a conversation could progressively go deeper and deeper, or you could comment on something impromptu. As a result, an NPC's behavior and its perception of something can change!

Dark, forgotten dungeon full of unknowable danger, scum, and villainy. Check! Numerous paths and halls to explore and get lost in. Check! Chests, armories, workshops, and hidden caches to plunder. Check!

The underworld is about survival and discovery. It's important to stay vigilant and open to the possibilities. NPCs and the environment itself are not simply fabricated elements for our enjoyment. They have motivations separate from us. Environments are arranged to be as sensible and immersive as possible. The design lives up to what BM is trying to accomplish, and now that NPCs and the underworld have been built anew, the experience is significantly more interesting.

When it comes to exploration, there is a plethora of nooks and crannies to inquisite. Areas look as though people actually lived and worked in them. The generous amount of latrines do much justice for this. Unfortunately, XA currently represents a fraction of its final content. That includes the combat, which will be expanded with ranged weaponry, more melee actions, and the mystical powers of Thaumaturgy.

Arena is like a gladiator sim. Your avatar becomes the 'manager'. Currently, they're of little consequence; asides that if they die, they drag associated save data to the grave. "Recruit" starts additional inept PCs, while "hire" allows purchase of NPCs to bid into matches and/or pair with as allies.

Match types are varied, but Arena isn't very immersive, yet. Players can forfeit, but winning demands the death or KO of all opponents. Arena lacks personality too. There's no taunting or weapon flourishing; no victory cheer; no blaring, memorable fanfares; no guards; no master of ceremonies. Most importantly, there's never an audience!

Equippables are purchased from the shopkeep or hired merchant with match prizes. Purchased items are transferred to the main stash, but PCs/NPCs have a personal inventory and stash. Keep in mind when you're hording items that load times for the stash will increase significantly. To avoid this, I suggest purchasing Recruits and/or Hirelings as mules to spread your equipment equally through your roster. This also helps keep the stash tabs from getting too cluttered.

XA is a revolution against mediocrity and stagnation, and it's as elegant as it is rough around the edges. Despite its lite content, what it currently offers is nothing short of phenominal! Arena and brutal combat gives it a hardcore edge, and refining one's form and the art of slaughter can become a game in and of itself!

With story mode still in its infancy, XA's premise of adventure, emergent gameplay, and roleplay falls quite flat. This makes Arena all the more tempting. Nonetheless, the game is engrossing and boasts a beautifully tailored world. Early play means an early grasp on the massively complex combat, and there's no guarantee you will master it without steadfast, exhaustive dedication.
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