Not too long ago I talked about The Sorceress, a game so good that it fraudulently touted itself as winning numerous awards and promptly banned anyone who dared to say otherwise. But how bad can a game be that, in a theoretical alternate universe, managed to take home best graphics, best atmosphere, best action, the Indie World Award, and the Dev Gamm award that hadn’t even happened yet?
The sorceress tells the story of a world torn asunder by bad creatures, and you the sorceress are the only one that can stop them. The game tells you this through broken English narration and recorded video of the main character hitting things with her sword while numbers pop out. You’d be forgiven if you mistook this for a bad fan-made machinima project, all it’s missing is the five frames per second video and the ‘unregistered bandicam’ logo splashed at the top.
You often hear game critics talk about developers not bothering to put any effort into their quests, but I think Karabas Studio should be claiming a patent on the concept. The second quest you receive in the game is from an innkeeper and literally just says “I need to kill 2 Skeletons. Can you kill the skeletons for me, please?” So you kill the 2 skeletons, come back, and receive a healing potion. Your next quest? “I need to kill 10 skeletons. Can you kill the skeletons for me, please?” It has nothing to do with the broken English, that I could at least have some sympathy for.
After you kill the skeleton king, the game gains more of a semblance of plot, but not really. There are monsters in a nearby dungeon and they want to destroy the town. If you want to stop them from doing that, you’re going to have to kill them. That’s pretty much it.
The controls and mechanics in the game are an utter mess, almost as if it was developed by someone who didn’t have the faintest clue on how to create a video game, from the action hotbar that doesn’t work much of the time to the health/mana potions that are button operated and have no cooldown between use. Your first interaction will likely be wondering why the hell none of the NPCs are interactive until you figure out that the developer has mapped that button to I. Yes, I, the universally accepted interact button.
The dungeon that makes up the breadth of the game is a one way series of corridors randomly dotted with a small assortment of lazily cobbled together generic fantasy mobs. Enemies in the game respawn so quickly, including bosses, that by the time you’ve cleared out a room the one behind you has repopulated. That’s assuming of course that they don’t just immediately respawn where the previous one dropped. That’s also assuming that you can manage to stay locked on to an enemy, since the tab targeting barely functions and using the mouse to target is like trying to walk a cat on a leash.
There are a ton of little things here and there that should be second grade knowledge when building a game, but somehow still managed to be missed. Inventory management is, well, nonexistent. You can’t move items to different slots, you can’t drop stacks, and the button disappears whenever you do something. In order to drop the stack of 20 ‘sculls’ (their spelling, not mine) that you’ve collected, you need to click the skull, click drop, rinse, and repeat. And be sure to drop them in a place you’ll never go back to, the items stay on the floor forever, even after shutting the game off, and you pick them up automatically by walking near them.
By the end of the game, your inventory is a cluttered mess of teleport gems and keys that are forever placed at the earliest spot you had an open inventory space. The teleport gems, presumably a workaround to the game’s awful spawning system, teleports you deeper into the dungeon since you respawn at the front when you die. There is a five minute cooldown, however there wasn’t a visible countdown that I saw. You just have to keep using the item until it works.
Characters and enemies in the game are a mixed bag of store bought assets, including your player character who appears to be a random stock anime girl. You pick up palette swap armor and weapons over the course of the game that don’t affect your appearance, since that would require someone with modeling knowledge and thus be far beyond this game’s technical budget. Armor and weapons are just six color swaps of the same items, and there’s only a small handful of enemies that the game reuses prolifically.
Enemy AI is, expectedly, idiotic. Since mobs respond based on your proximity alone rather than to damage received, it is entirely possible to set yourself up with longer range spells and just keep peppering them from afar. In fact, this is how I beat the final boss. A sad, but not unexpected end to an equally sad and not all that unexpected game. You should keep your eyes open, for a game with early 2000’s graphics and not a hint of atmosphere, the draw distance is disgustingly short, rarely going as far as the length of the room you’re in.
I managed to beat The Sorceress in under five hours, because part of me wanted to finish the game and prove some semblance of “it wasn’t all that bad,” but I’m not going to turn this into a cost analysis based on the seven dollars I paid because it was five hours of pain and frustration. In a world where one-man games are becoming increasingly high quality, where Steam is getting piled on like a landfill with trash, games like The Sorceress don’t have a place, not even for the people who like the ‘so bad it’s funny’ aspect. It’s not funny anymore.
One thing I didn’t mention about the game is the graphics, since they are Unity assets and it doesn’t seem right to pass judgement on something the developer didn’t make. It’s like praising your dad’s baking skills over the Marie Callender pie he picked up at Wal Mart and moved from the tin over to a fancy looking plate. What I will say is that the assets are the gaming equivalent of a ransom note made out of cut up newspaper clippings, with characters that look like they were hastily ripped from a dollar store toy box and thrown together without much thought to consistency or quality.
By all counts, my coverage of this game will no doubt see more traffic than the actual game itself will see sales. The best we can hope for is that games like this continue to be smothered in the white noise that is the current Steam release climate.