I’m an old-school gamer at heart. I grew up playing RPGs in the Dragon Warrior/Dragon Quest series and in recent years I’ve devoured indie versions like Breath of Death VII and Cthulhu Saves the World. So when I heard about the Xbox Live release of Doom & Destiny as part of the Indie Games Summer Uprising event, I was really excited for another traditional role-playing experience. While the premise, humor, and style of the game are top-notch, unfortunately a number of poor design choices and a lack of polish keep this out of the upper echelon in the genre.
The game’s premise itself is so promising and rife for humor. Four friends are meeting up at another friend’s house for a round of D&D only to find that the friend is missing and that there’s a dungeon underneath his house. From there it gets even more bizarre as the four remaining friends are pulled into another dimension. This strange world is in need of heroes and its people have randomly pulled these nerds in to help stop the great villain, Unnamed.
There are a few recurring themes throughout the story. The four ‘Heroes’ are constantly ridiculed by others and each other. The “You guys suck” motif that occurs with everyone they encounter started wearing on me after awhile. However, I never got tired of the intra-team conversations. Each of the four guys has their own personality and quirks and while it’s predictable how they’ll each react in a particular situation, it doesn’t make it any less funny or enjoyable.
Another theme worth mentioning for both its merits and demerits are the number of cultural references in the game. Everything from Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda to the A-Team, Flying Spaghetti Monster, Lord of the Rings and many, many more. At first it was clever and humorous and rekindled fond memories of the Zeboyd Games titles mentioned earlier. However, here the developers took it a few steps too far. There are entire sections of the game that are playing off of other games or movie plots. I couldn’t help but feel like I was stuck in a Wayans brothers movie. It never made me want to stop playing the game, but it certainly lost its charm over me.
The dialogue is another mixed bag. Like I mentioned before, I absolutely love the conversations within the team. Even a lot of the conversations between the team and other characters are great too. The personalities really shine through and the use of dialogue ‘asides’ was a nice touch. However this is also the area where the game shows how unpolished it is. In an RPG, you expect to find a typo or two in such a massive amount of text. Here, however, the misspellings, grammatical mistakes, etc. never end and actually seem to get worse the further in you play. It really takes you out of the mood of the game when a cringe-worthy mistake is spotted and it happens far too often.
The battle system, for the most part, is pretty good. You play in a traditional RPG turn-based style with random battles. The stats break down into 4 categories: Strength, Charisma, Grit, and Dexterity. Each of those categories affects how hard you hit, how effective your spells are, how good you are at evading attacks, etc. Nothing terribly new here. A nice addition I hadn’t seen before in an RPG was the battle meter at the top that continuously keeps track of the queue of player and enemy turns so you know whose turn it will always be next. This can help you in a lot of your decision-making.
I was not a fan of the skills system in the game. Skills are either spells or other abilities you call on during a fight. As you level up a particular stat category you can equip more and more skills that you usually have to purchase. Most RPGs I’ve played have you earning skills simply by leveling up. In this game, it’s much more difficult to keep your players battle-ready with a full arsenal of skills because you’re having to spend your money on equipment or healing aids. Even when you do have these abilities at your disposal, they use so much mana that you can only call them a few times before you’re out of resources. You can replenish that mana with supplies, but the enemies so infrequently drop items and towns are so few and far between that you’ll often have your characters relegated to simply doing standard physical attacks. It was a very poor design decision.
One of the things I really liked about Cthulhu Saves the World is that prior to every boss fight there’s a save area that will automatically max out your hit points and mana and allow you to save the game. There’s no such luxury here. In fact, if you don’t remember to save your game frequently you’ll encounter the same frustration I did. I had a party wipe and lost about an hour’s worth of gametime because the game takes you back to your last save when you die. I’ll take an experience points loss, gold reduction, or some other penalty every time before I’d use a system like this. In this game’s defense, however, it does warn you at the beginning to save often.
It’s not too often that a full-fledged RPG comes out in the Xbox Live Indie Games market. So when one finally does appear, I feel it necessary to forcefully suppress my excitement and dissect it without the use of rose-tinted glasses. Doom & Destiny does a lot of things well. It embraces nerd culture even if in a self-deprecating way. It offers some useful and unique battle mechanics I’d never seen in an XBLIG role-playing game. However the game is also plagued with a number of minor miscues. There’s nothing wrong in a game-breaking way, but it’s enough to remind you that this is not a retail release by a development studio with tons of Q.A. resources. Typically at this point I’d recommend to the reader to go download and play the trial, but I feel I should also mention that the trial is different than most available on the market. Instead of allowing you to play the first 8-10 minutes of the game, the trial will instead bounce you around various parts of the game. You can still get a decent feel for the mood, story, and gameplay, but it might be a bit confusing. With more time to give a game a little more love, I’m curious to see what developer HeartBit Interactive can do next.
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