Review: Lichdom Battlemage

Lichdom: Battlemage is an ‘old-school’ fantasy FPS (First Person Shooter) that eschews guns in favor of mighty, destructive magic. Hurling lighting, fire, ice, and other elements at your enemies, your goal is simple: kill everything that isn’t you, steal their loot, and become more powerful.

You begin as a simple smith, approached by a 2-dimensional mustache-twirling nobleman who may as well be called Sir Mustache Twirling Badguy. He and his henchman (Sir Evil Henchman) kills your wife in front of you for no good reason, knocks you stupid, and leaves with the perfectly correct number of ‘ha’s’ in his Muahahahaha.

You awaken (mysteriously) as the chosen disciple of a mystical man with the less-than mysterious name of Roth. Dubbing you his “Dragon”, he bequeaths to you two powerful bracers that give you the ability to blow the ever-lovin’ crap out of anyone and anything with fire, lightning, ice, and an array of other magics acquired through the course of the game.
That’s about it for the plot. The story and writing in Lichdom: Battlemage are threadbare and likely constructed in a writing-by-numbers style in an Excel spreadsheet. It’s forgettable, disjointed, and sometimes indecipherable. But it’s not surprising. The story clearly took a back seat to the visceral joy of exploding, burning, freezing, plaguing, electrocuting (and other ‘–ings’) dozens of enemies.
They should have spent more time on the story though. More on that later.

I am Mighty! Mostly!

Unfortunately, for as powerful as the game makes you feel sometimes, the highly linear and contrived nature of it also strip that power away. “Gee,” you’ll wonder, “Even though I can teleport, now that I’ve dropped 10 feet into that suspicious-looking open area I can’t seem to teleport (or climb, jump, run) ten feet up and get out.”

Yes, expect lots of never-changing monster closets, arenas, and circle-strafing/circle spell-casting. It’s an old formula that, when handled properly, can still work. Lichdom: Battlemage makes it work pretty well, but still doesn’t completely avoid the inherent monotony and tedium of it. Stingy save checkpoints don’t help, either. Die and you may be faced with re-playing the last 15-20 minutes of the game– andBattlemage isn’t an easy game.

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Removing the I from AI

The game’s idiotic AI knows no fear and is largely relegated to three actions: running at you, shooting at you, or running away from you (so they can shoot at you).

I can forgive most of this—for example, the undead aren’t known for their smarts. However, the many human opponents in the game are just as dumb. Despite the fact that I can rain fire, blast bolts of lighting, or freeze and shatter enemies, unprotected infantry are more than happy to make verbal threats and run headlong at meeven when they are on fire.

Wizarding 101

Thankfully, Lichdom: Battlemage throws enough enemies at you to keep things mostly entertaining,, but this is more due to the game’s magic system than the enemies themselves—assuming you can even begin to grasp the completely arcane loot and crafting system in the game.

Here’s a basic rundown: You can have up to 3 magical power types (called Sigils) available at any one time, and at checkpoints you can change your equipped Sigils. (I mainly stuck with fire, ice, and lightning, even after acquiring additional ones such as Kinesis and Corruption.)

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The upgrade system is, unfortunately, arcane.

Left-click fires an attack. Left-click and hold charges a more powerful blast. Pressing and holding both mouse buttons charges an AOE attack that can rain fire from the sky, blast lightning bolts, or create traps of ice to encase enemies. Right-clicking blocks and reduces damage, and if you time it right you’ll deliver an immediate counter attack.

In addition, the spacebar charges a short-range teleport that blasts enemies in a radius when you appear. Different modifications for your shield (your 4th Sigil) modify your secondary teleport effects—for example, some allow you to charge the teleport more quickly, and others may boast stronger defense.

The actual effect of any ability varies highly depending on the modifications you’ve applied to your Sigils.

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Loot: Smashing round things into other round things

The loot and crafting system in Battlemage is as confusing as it is interesting. Fundamentally it’s similar to the gem/crafting systems in games like Diablo II or Torchlight II—but it’s far harder to decipher and the game does little to help you really understand it.

Here’s a very basic rundown of the system: Every Sigil has 3 ‘slots’ for spells, each of which governs particular aspects of the Sigil. To create a spell, you select a Sigil (fire for example), then select a pattern (bolt, ray, pool, and others), and then apply an Augmentation. Then you combine them all to create a single ‘spell’.

Each Sigil can have 3 different types of spells applied to it that ultimately shape the attacks and defenses you can use when that Sigil is equipped.

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The raw materials for all your spells are the loot—round loot dropped randomly by enemies and found in stashes. You can combine spells, upgrade them, or break them apart. You can ‘reforge’ them, which is basically throwing them away in the hopes of getting something in return (i.e. gambling).

Now the confusion: Every item has a dozen or more characteristics, all of them couched in obscure terms that aren’t really defined in-game–for example, “Consumes 150% of mastery” or “Apocalyptic chance” (which is when a charged power scores a critical hit, in case you’re wondering — and yes, I had to dig that up). These are just two of maybe a dozen or more examples I could cite.

Theoretically, you could fine-tune all of your Sigil powers to create the perfect combination of powers and abilities, and turn yourself into the ultimate engine of magical destruction.

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The reality of the system is more like this: You’ll learn just enough to get an idea of what you want to accomplish through experimentation. Then you’ll smash all the round things together to make better round things, and equip the resulting round things to your Sigils. Which are round. Eventually you find combinations that make it easier for you to kill things and not die—so you can collect more powerful round things and repeat the process.

Why am I doing this again?

Old school shooters don’t need a great narrative, but it doesn’t hurt. After a while—and I’m talking 8-12 hours into the game, if not sooner—your thirst for vengeance against Sir Mustache Twirling BadGuy may begin to wane. You might ask yourself “are we there yet?”

The story is pretty confusing even if you attempt to follow it. There are journal entries you can find that you won’t bother to read, and ‘echoes’ of the past that show you bits of What Has Gone Before. And then this random female scout shows up, spits out some generally useless dialog, and then disappears before doing anything particularly helpful. She can also apparently teleport 10 times better than you. Maybe I should just give her the Sigils.

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The first 10 hours of the game basically go like this: You chase a bad guy. He gets away. You catch up to him. He gets away. You FINALLY catch up to him, fight a boss monster, probably die a lot, and then kill the boss. The bad guy might get away again. Or it’s on to another bad guy. Repeat.

Add to this the stingy checkpoint saves and some pretty grueling battles and tedium can easily give way to frustration—and wanting to play something else.

Overall: 6.5/10

OK, so I’ve given Lichdom: Battlemage a pretty hard time for its confusing loot system and forgettable narrative. Regardless, the game looks nice (courtesy of CryEngine 3) and the gameplay is generally pretty fun.

In short, it still gets enough right and delivers a pretty entertaining experience, although you may find short stints (1-2 checkpoints) more satisfying than long sessions. Regardless, there are a lot of missed opportunities here as well.

 

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