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Solid, inoffensive, well crafted entertainment. (Or the best thing ever if you wear shorts for school.)

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    Portal Knights

    Rating: 3.5 – Good

    Solid, inoffensive, well crafted entertainment. (Or the best thing ever if you wear shorts for school.)

    It’s strange writing a review for a game I found it hard to engage with but see my 7 year old son playing and realise it has got him hooked. He swears it is the best game he’s played since: (then lists every game he’s ever played).

    It borrows a lot from the genre popularised by Minecraft and Terraria and does a better job of introducing you to the world. Having a very obvious gameplay objective means that there isn’t quite the same sense of trepidation when you awake in your new environment but that isn’t necessarily a great thing.

    You walk right in, start making progress right away and it’s comfortable. Not amazing. Just…. good.

    On the surface this is graphically very…nice. Everything looks chunky, clear and inoffensive. Until your enter a dungeon, where clever lighting effects seem to have been applied to look clever rather than to actually provide lighting or provide cues for navigation. It is a minor nit-picking point but one part of the problem this game has in the art style. The lighting is not bad but it is naive. It ‘looks’ like it works well.

    "Of course that is the style" one might argue. The character models are intentionally simple, the enemies equally chunky, simple and clean in form. So let me clarify: Rare have a reputation for clean, naive, simple designs, but you know a Rare game as soon as you see it (even across very different themes and genres). The theme and art style are very refined. There is Rare’s humour and character in every little detail. There is a very clear identity to every game and application they make.

    Stick Portal Knights next to any Mine-craft clone and it just looks like a more polished version of any one of them (Hello Roblox.) Don’t get me wrong, the theme is consistent, the characters very well designed and animated for the genre it so neatly slots into, but there is nothing memorable, nothing to make think this is more than just ‘another one of those games.’

    It’s like they went to ‘textures and colour palettes R Us’ and just stocked up on buy-one get-one free deals. Its clear that the design choices were actually more nuanced but the overall feeling of all the cutesyness and lack of flair makes it all a bit mundane.

    This doesn’t matter so much if this is just survival crafting and exploring but Portal Knights really wants to be an RPG. You choose a class at the start, the usual tropes, Warrior, Mage and Archery, stealthy, knifey person. And there I go again, so disinterested was I after making my first character that I can’t recall what the class is called, much less what mustachio I chose for his generic (definitely not Lego Worlds, Roblox, Mine-craft, Survival Craft) head. I’ve been playing this game for days!

    I crafted clothes. Can’t recall what they look like. I played the game ten minutes ago but I realised why I wasn’t engaging in this game.

    Everything is good, but nothing is outstanding. It is all just forgettably good.

    The forgettableness doesn’t stop at just the graphics. Player movement feels detached, a little wooly and imprecise for a game that relies on combat for progression. Jumping is not quite as tight as it should be. But isn’t bad enough to become an issue. It’s just so familiar.

    It is like the developers got together, brainstormed what they liked in the genre and picked out all the good bits. Then they just tweaked every existing idea just enough to be ‘different.’ You can craft tools, they don’t break but they need sharpening. See? Different. They don’t break like Mine-craft. They get blunt.

    You don’t kill Enderman to farm some sort of enderpoop in order to craft the keys for hard-to-locate portal and fight and Enderdragon. You kill monsters who poop bits of easy to locate portals who then lead you to a boss who then gives you access to a different portal.

    Definitely different.
    Not bad. But not surprising. Not great. Just good.

    Combat is nothing bad. enemies just mope around until they see you, then have the same kind of attack sequence but they rarely become a threat. They don’t seem to attack until they can smell you so you don’t tend to get mobbed unless you actually try and corral them into a ring around you. Nothing explodes behind you.


    But that means there is almost no threat.

    It doesn’t matter at the start while the game world/s feel fresh, but as time goes on and it gets harder to find the increasingly reclusive dropped items, not because the npc’s are hard to find, but because they just drop less frequently. It begins to feel more and more like a grind as the game attempts to provide more challenge by just failing to give you what you are looking for.

    At higher levels it feels like a game of cups; that game where the street magician tells you to watch the ball then switches three cups around before asking you to pick the one you think the ball is under. We all know he’s stuffed the ball in his trousers in the first ten seconds and all the cups are empty. And after the tenth time it just isn’t fun anymore. In a game where the reward for winning thirty odd roulette spins is another world that is ‘not quite as epic as (insert any free roaming game title here)’ it doesn’t excite.

    It’s still good.

    Technically that is what a lot of games do, but here there is not enough depth to disguise it. And the more the game tries to up the difficulty by telling me to find more ‘pieces of that portal (essentially find a key fetching ) the more you feel that there isn’t enough variety, or standout moments that other games generate by design or through serendipity. It is never big enough or clever enough to take your breath away, or even impress.

    It’s good.

    There is lots of good, but never anything awesome. Just clear, consistent, solid.

    Its a Mr Kipling Apple Pie. There are nicer apple pies but the occasional Kipling is not bad. It’ll do. It’s not going to fill you up, not going to make you smile, but it isn’t going to kill you; and for a few seconds you can sort of taste apple and pastry. Then cardboard.

    Portal Knights made me taste a bit of character creation, a bit of exploration, a bit of survival play and, in multiplayer it sometimes felt a bit like we were questing, especially in two player local.

    But then we found we’d stopped playing. We were too busy chatting to remember what it was we were collecting. Turns out we didn’t care. The game was good, but never surprising, never challenging (it gets harder but that is a different process) and at some stage my son and I had switched pads and hadn’t noticed.

    What is the point of an RPG where you don’t care about the role you are playing?

    Its not an RPG then.

    If it is about exploration why such a bland theme? Why such constrained level generation? Maybe mine just randomly generated boring places but Minecraft always seems to throw a curve ball in every map, why can’t this?

    Every time a new world was revealed I found myself recognising it as "Oh this is mountain one. Of yeah this is a canyon one." There just weren’t ANY extremes.

    If is about boss battles, why do the bosses look so derivative and the process of killing them so familiar every time?

    Admittedly I haven’t played it all but this is game that has just been ‘good’. It’s never made me smile, never infuriated me, never surprised me or challenged me. It has occasionally bored me, but not until later on.

    It is still good remember.

    At every turn there is another gameplay-element you’ll be familiar with.

    I kept thinking nice….

    This music is nice… Like Muzak….

    This boss is nice… comfortable… familiar….

    This game is nice….

    Not brilliant. Never outrageously fun, just nice.

    Mr Kipling Apple pies are nice too but there are lot of cheap Apple Pies out there. The higher quality cardboard of the packaging isn’t enough to recommend one over another.

    If you are seven years old though, this is the "Best game EVER!!!!!!!!"

    It is forgiving. It is crisp, clear. There is no getting lost. It’s so inoffensive I could recommend it to an after-school club, there is just NOTHING for the kids to squabble over. There is no competition for them to need conflict resolution skills but at the same time they don’t seem to bother building anything so it loses that educational element Mine-craft can claim.

    It won’t disappoint. It just won’t inspire either.

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