by Andrew Skelton (Outfoxed)
If you ask me, spell casters get a pretty bum deal in most video games. Here they are, wielding amazing cosmic power, and yet they have so little to show for it! No scarred landscapes, no scorched earth, no frozen wastelands that once were home to the battlefields they tread upon. Well, Fictorum by Scraping Bottom Games seeks to change that even just a little. Fictorum puts you in the role of the titular character, sent forth to seek out your foes and burn, freeze, and electrocute them to your whims. Oh, and you get to absolutely destroy the heck out of houses, towers, trees, and more. Seriously, who hasn’t wanted to drop a flaming meteor down on someone’s house who slighted you in some minute way?
There Can Be Only One
Fictorum is the story of one man: the fictorum, strangely enough. There’s a little bit of customization you can do to make him stand out a bit, but not too much. You can change the colors of his outfit, give him some sweet mutton chops or other facial hair options, and decided whether you want that wizard’s hood up or down. No, there’s no gender options or butt-sliders here. It’s his story, dammit!
From the start, you can choose from one of three titles that gives you immediate access to their respective element. Firebrand provides you with the fireball spell right away, Tempest allows you to fling lightning bolts, and Frost-bound empowers you with the ability to hurl frost spears at your foes. More of these titles are unlocked as you play through the game, giving you a host of options to start with in future games as you advance.
Learning to be a Fire Fighter
The tutorial Fictorum offers is simultaneously simple and robust. It’s quick and to the point, but teaches you plenty on how to play the game. To start with, the game offers both controller and mouse and keyboard support. Both work equally well here, though the latter option does seem to allow a bit more precision in your spell slinging. Using a controller, however, feels more intuitive for movement and interacting with objects throughout the game.
This tutorial also gives you plenty of insight on eliminating enemies and buildings alike. You’re taught how to fling your basic spells, and how to use the runes attached to them to shoot more powerful, enhanced versions of these spells. It also educates on destroying buildings empowering the portals in each stage to progress further into the game, because you can’t leave the tutorial until you do!
The Wrecking Crew
Let me quickly set the story of the game for you. You play as the last fictorum, a mage of incredible and possibly limitless power. You’re being chased by the Inquisition, a group dedicated to hunting the corruption plaguing the world. It just so happens you’re a part of that corruption. You’re on the way to their base to politely educate them on how powerful you really are. The Inquisition, meanwhile, is chasing you down to stop you from reaching their headquarters, because they’re worried you might do something rash like call down a slew of meteors to reduce it to a pile of slag, or something equally silly.
Of course, nothing’s ever quite that simple. Along the way, you travel from node to node on a map reminiscent of games like FTL. Each stop has its own story associated with it. You’ll encounter tales of towns cowering in fear as the abominable Corrupted spring from the miasma, or even bounty hunters looking to make a name for themselves by killing the legendary unicorn – I mean fictorum – that you are. These little subplots are surprisingly well written and engrossing, too. If the game had any sort of narration to it, it could really pull you into the sheer culture of the game setting.
Paying Your Dues and How to Find Them
Enemies come in a few different forms. First, there’s the aforementioned Inquisition. They tend to be well-equipped, and come with a range of units from archers to mages to infantry. They hurt. A lot. There’s also bandits and mercenary groups throughout the game who also employ these same units, but they tend to be less defended and go down a lot easier. Finally, there are the Corrupted. From what I’ve seen, there are three types. The first, and most basic, are the grunts. They simply charge at you and attempt to kill you until you die from it. The second are the exploder types. They’re characterized by being slightly reddish compared to the bluish purple the grunts are. As expected, they explode when you defeat them, dealing damage to everything around them. Yes, including friends, and yes, including buildings. Finally, there are the stalkers. These illusory creatures can only be seen up close, and they’re also faster and more powerful than the other Corrupted.
That being said, the AI isn’t particularly great. Mages and archers have a semblance of being able to track your movements, but are easily juked into throwing a spell or shooting a bolt one way while you make tracks the other. The melee troops, on the other hand, simply charge at you and attempt to take you down with swarm tactics. The other problem with the AI is they instantly know where you are, and where you’re going. You can’t launch a lightning bolt in any town without some group of enemies charging your position immediately, even if you threw said bolt from a mile away and have long since moved away from your original position. They will not stop. Ever.
Lightning and Frostbolts and Fire, Oh My!
Let’s get this out of the way quickly.: there are a lot of spells in Fictorum. There are a lot of spells you probably will never use in Fictorum, too. That being said, you can have up to four spells hotkeyed at any given time, along with two spells attached to enchanted rings. This gives a nice illusion of choice, but most of the time, it pays to stick with the basics. When you have a beehive’s worth of enemies buzzing towards you, it’s best to quickly use what you’ve been using from the start. See, your basic spell already comes with three runes built in. These runes have specific stats based on what element you chose, but generally they’re incredibly versatile and powerful against what you’re up against.
Using those runes is possibly the most fun you can have in Fictorum, too. By chaining together these effects, you can make a mundane fireball into three explosive balls of incendiary glory. Or perhaps you’d like that lightning bolt to chain and stun all the foes coming after you? Yep, you can do that too. That’s what’s great about combat in this game: you can choose how to react to a situation simply by changing what runes you enhance your spells with.
Atop the Peaks We Rise
As I explained earlier, Fictorum uses a hub base system for its stage progression, much like FTL. If you’ve not played FTL, basically you start out at a singular point that has one or more branching paths from said point. You select your destination, and you receive some background story about what’s going on there. You’re then free to choose whether or not you want to adventure on that particular node, or if you want to continue your journey. The ultimate goal of every map is to make it to the giant red pillar which indicates the main Inquisition base for each chapter so you can progress to the next and repeat the process. How you arrive there is up to you, however keep in mind that as you advance, Inquisition forces are also encroaching on your position, so you do need to think about forward movement here.
Each of the stages you can encounter has a variety of available missions. You might be tasked to destroy all of the Corrupted on one map, and to defend the town’s buildings from an Inquisition assault on the next. It is these random elements that aid the replayability in a title like this. That’s not even getting into the fact there are eight chapters in the game; excluding the fact you can continue on afterwards in a far more difficult journey. There should be no complaints about a short game here.
It’s All About Fashion, Okay?
While the spells and their effects are your main source of power throughout the game, they aren’t your only means of defense. You can find a variety of equipment throughout the game that falls into one of six slots. There are four classes of armor for the chest, shoulders, gloves, and boots, plus two ring slots, each with different modifiers and statistics. You have complete control on how you want to equip your character in this case. Want a heavily armored battle mage? Go for some plate armor! Light and nimble but still reasonably protected? Leather’s going to be right up your alley. They even come in various rarities with different magical properties available. Magic armors can even be enchanted to make them even more powerful, should you grow attached to one particular, useful piece of gear. In fact, your runes can also be enchanted to make your spells that much more powerful, and it’s quite important to do so whenever you have the essence (the catch-all enchanting material and in-game currency) to do so.
While you can find some equipment by defeating foes, the majority of your clothing finds will come from inside the houses you can destroy. This is one slight problem I have with the game, however, in that you want to search every house for useful items and healing potions – health is a finite resource here; no regeneration occurs naturally – but any damage sustained to the house will make the loot disappear. You do receive essence if there was loot in the house, at least, but possibly missing out on that legendary piece of gear can be dismaying.
Overall Conclusion: Good (3/5)
Let me lay out one core point: I actually really liked Fictorum at its core. Why the low score then? Well, there are some issues with the gameplay I touched on. The AI is incredibly dull and mundane. Losing your main source of equipment upgrades because you accidentally hit a building in your zealous purging by righteous fire can also be problematic. There’s also very little customization to speak of, most of which you can’t see. I think my major problem, though, is one of pacing. There are times the game just seems to drag on, mainly due to the AI issues. Mass destruction can only take you so far if it loses its charm after the hundredth house exploded into chunks.
Still, it’s a very interesting and well put together game concept. There are so many spell combinations out there that two people will never have the exact same experience. Fictorum also features a bevy of achievements that give you more options to start the game with too, bringing in much needed replayability. Personally, I might recommend checking the game out on a sale, but it’s hard to fully recommend with a $19.99 price tag in its current state. Hopefully the developers will add plenty of updates to improve the game by leaps and bounds in the near future.
Note: A game key was provided for purpose of review.
Fictorum Gameplay Screenshots: