General game information
Game name: Fictorum
Release date: August 9, 2017
Price: US$ 19.99
Available on: Steam
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Scraping Bottom Games
Publisher: Scraping Bottom Games
Fictorum is a title determined to do justice to the classic RPG mage character, forever forced to watch other heroes as they fearlessly tackle enemy hordes head on while they must carefully manage mana bars and lengthy spell cooldowns. Scraping Bottom Games‘ first release does away with the standard depiction of magic users, letting us rain down powerful blasts of fire and ice upon our enemies’ unsuspecting faces and look cool while doing it.
Setting and story
Our journey starts after the villainous Inquisition gets rid of all the world’s Fictorum (or Fictorii, maybe?) leaving only our character as the last representative of this ancient order of magic users. Alone and unwelcome, we must embark on a path of revenge, hunting the lead Inquisitor and making our way through countless small towns and enemy encampments.
As we visit new places we’ll get events which might be as straightforward as the classic “kill X amounts of the marked enemy and I’ll give you a reward” or a bit more interesting, with multiple choices to be made and interesting pieces of lore being added to our journal. Sadly, since most of the game is procedurally generated and the events aren’t linked together by hand, we will run into repeated instances of the same type of mission, somewhat ruining what otherwise can be a fairly entertaining adventure.
Luckily, procedural generation has its upsides, so environments can change a lot as we travel deeper into the lands held by the Inquisition, and with some exceptions, my playthroughs featured wildly different areas. Advancing to new levels will change the visuals greatly, so we might fight our way through a mountainous region and after clearing that area’s Inquisition hotspot, we’ll emerge on a sandy desert, for example.
The “choose your own adventure” quests are definitely the high point of the game’s storytelling, as they can help us decide whether we are a vengeful soul hell bent on destroying the Inquisition, or a powerful magic user who will lend a hand when poor villagers call for help. Of course, there are less extreme options, and due to the non linear nature of the narrative we might help out some villagers one day and blow up a small town on the next.
Firing up Fictorum, we’ll be presented with a basic character customization screen, where we’ll be able to select our base spell type, input our name and change our robes’ colors, among other things. After completing a short tutorial, the game will drop us on the world map, where we can pick our destination with the mouse (this is the place where most of the “choose your own adventure” scenarios will play out). Once we’ve selected a destination, we’ll transition into the main gameplay areas, 3D scenarios full of enemies to kill and structures to loot/destroy.
Fictorum‘s basic gameplay loop is simple, we can jump, run, use a small teleportation ability, move certain objects with telekinesis, and fire a basic version of our chosen spell with the left mouse button. Things get more interesting once we learn how to shape our magic weaponry with runes, which can be used to add power, speed and other useful boosts to our base spells.
Our arsenal requires mana to function, so we should always keep an eye on our resource meter, lest we start draining our life force with every shot (and we definitely don’t want to do that, since health isn’t replenished with potions and such, and we will either have to find a quest that ends up on our broken body being repaired, or barter our precious magic essence with a trader in exchange for some healing points). Luckily, our character’s mana regeneration abilities are top notch so we won’t be waiting for long cooldowns to run out every time we fire a powerful spell.
The rune system adds a lot of depth and complexity to the game’s combat, and it lets us engage enemies on our own terms, as we can shape magic missiles so they have create extra powerful explosions, or slow our foes, for instance. New runes may be found as we search enemy strongholds, acquired as rewards from quests, or bought from the vendors we’ll meet on special places.
Gear acquisition works pretty much the same way, and the variety on offer will help greatly as the enemy forces become harder to beat. As expected from an RPG, new pieces of equipment may offer better stats but come with certain negative aspects, or come imbued with a magic spell, if we are lucky.
Speaking of our foes, while we’ll begin the game fighting the villainous Inquisition, soon a new threat will enter the fold, zombie-like corrupted creatures that will try to get in closer using cloaking spells in order to finish us quickly. Our teleportation ability will get a ton of use during these kind of fights, and I felt that as an enemy force, the corrupted were definitely less interesting than the normal human foes, due to their simple AI (they usually just run at the player) and samey looking character models.
Battling the Inquisition is a far more interesting affair, as they will field melee infantry, bowmen and magic users in their attempts to take us down. Normal infantrymen are easy to kill, but buffed out knights will require more tactics (or even the use of our telekinetic powers). Magic users will usually try to freeze us in place with ice shards so the bulk of their unit can get close and chop us to pieces, so we should always prioritize ranged units over the cannon fodder melee forces.
As a powerful spellcaster, our character can destroy almost every building in the game, and the debris will kill or stun any enemies it hits (the same goes for our hero though, so we should be careful when blowing up buildings). Of course, destroyed buildings will not yield any loot, but at least we’ll be able to get some magical essence from them, which we may use as currency when we meet traders. Destroying structures will become very useful in maps that feature bridges, since we can strand large enemy groups on one side while we deal with the remnants that managed to cross over before we cut off their supply lines.
Being the last Fictorum alive means that the Inquisition is constantly hot on our trail, so as we journey towards the end of each level we’ll see that portions of the world map change color, as they are overrun by the enemy forces. Going back to areas controlled by the Inquisition will drop us in combat scenarios way harder than the usual encounters, and unless we desperately need to do something in those areas, it’s advised that we should always keep moving forward.
In order to beat a level, we only need to move from left to right, reaching a red Nexus area and defeating the guardians that prevent us from entering the portal to the next map. Once we’ve completed this task, we’ll be able to select an attribute that should be improved, further bolstering our power.
Should we fail in our task, there are two things that may happen, depending on the chosen game mode. If we are playing with the permadeath modificator enabled, we’ll have to restart from the beginning but we’ll get to read an epilogue detailing our last moments. If we chose to play without permadeath on, we’ll be able to go back and play the scenario that killed us again, hoping for a better outcome.
Considering that we can only replenish our health if we find a quest that offers this as a reward, or if we manage to track down a trader, Fictorum ends up being a particularly difficult title. Later levels feature stronger and speedier enemy units, forcing us to play tactically if we intend to get out of hairy situations alive, and I couldn’t help but feel that the balance was a bit off. It’s understandable that a game about the last member of a magical order fighting a one man war against an overwhelming foe will be difficult, but at the same time I can see that a lot of people will be put off by Fictorum‘s difficulty level. An easier option is available and we may also choose to play in the non-permadeath mode, which lets us rewind if we die, but the vanilla Fictorum experience should only be attempted by players who are looking for a challenge.
Graphics, sound and performance
Fictorum is a strange beast when it comes to the tech department. The destructible buildings add a lot to the atmosphere, and the spells we’ll use to fight our foes feature high quality graphical effects and apropriately powerful sound FX. Sadly, everything else looks dated. Character models suffer from poor texture work, buildings look samey, and most maps feel empty. I’d be far more forgiving of this aspect of the game if the performance was rock solid, but once debris starts to fly the framerate drops, even on powerful systems that didn’t have any trouble running graphically impressive AAA releases.
Hopefully the developers will be able to smooth out performance (they are actively working on the game and have acknowledged that it needs some patches) because right now the situation isn’t ideal.
Scraping Bottom Games‘ debut release succeeds at making mages fun to play thanks to a combination of great gameplay and well written lore. Balance issues, poor performance and dated graphics might scare away some players, but those who stick with Fictorum till the end credits will find a diamond in the rough that is well worth playing.