Stories: The Path of Destinies
Developer: Spearhead Games
Publisher: Spearhead Games
ESRB Rating: Teen
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4, Nvidia Shield
EDMONTON, Alta. Feb. 26, 2017 /Troy Media/ – The core concept of Stories: The Path of Destinies kept me playing, but the pieces surrounding that core felt lacklustre and half-realized. And that made the experience empty and at times frustrating.
The game alternates overhead hack’n’slash gameplay with a storybook-style narrative to break up the levels. In the storybook moments, you’re asked to make choices that dictate how your tale progresses. Ultimately, the story concludes based on your choices and your character, Renardo, may learn one of four “Truths.”
The cycle starts again and you can take another branch as you work your way through the game multiple times to reveal all four Truths.
Using the knowledge you gain, you can overcome the big bad guy. But by overcome, I don’t mean you actually fight him. And that’s an odd design when most of the gameplay consists of combat.
You gain experience through your combat performance, earning skill points to put into a rudimentary skill tree. The tree has four tiers, each unlocked as you reveal one of the four Truths. I appreciated how the Truths became more than just a narrative element – they’re tied into Renardo’s customization.
There are also four magical swords, each with a potential upgrade. Areas of exploration are blocked off by magic doors. The corresponding sword gains you access.
The skill points are problematic. You can only input points at altars, placed inconsistently in each level. This is frustratingly archaic. I might want to try out my new skill on a group of enemies I know is coming up (because this is the fourth time I’ve played this level). Why force me to wait? Worse, the game often stops you from backtracking, whether by a gate that only opens from one side or a magical barrier that is inexplicably erected behind you. More than once, I passed an altar, found my next fight, levelled and tried to return to this altar, only to find it unreachable.
The storybook segments often sounding like they are being told on the fly between children. There’s very little cohesion or sensible segues. The most exciting sequences take place in these still-frame, uncoloured images with no compelling art style and a few weak lines of narration. We don’t get to see, let alone play, any of these scenes.
At one point, I could choose to pursue my friend’s hair-brained scheme. It sounded ludicrous and I was excited to see it play out. Instead, I got one line of dialogue saying, “And Lapino’s crazy plan actually worked!” I understand that game developers are on budgets, especially for smaller games, and it costs far less to tell a story than bringing the scene to life. But why not a solution that doesn’t make you feel left out?
Most of the game’s humour elicited a sigh rather than a chuckle. One man narrates, speaking in different voices for each character. He does a good job with the bland material.
I like the core concept. With each playthrough, you should learn something that helps you. Replaying levels eventually gets boring but you gain swords that open doors. And hidden chests usually contain stat-building gems.
After you finish a story, you fill a space in a board with a card. The card tells what decisions you made and a brief description of that story. The board also has spaces for the four Truths, which also fill in when discovered. Getting all four Truths leads to a keyhole.
Part of me wanted to keep replaying to fill out that board and see all the stories. Unfortunately, that part of me was buried beneath the annoyed, disappointed, bored part.
Aside from some light customization and a neat choose-your-own-adventure conceit, the combat was the only real gameplay and that wasn’t frequent. The customization was limited and by the end of my game, I was close to fully upgrading all the swords and I had all the gems. And that was after completing only four stories yet managing to unlock all the truths. I can’t imagine continuing to replay after being maxed out on upgrade options.
The combat is fast-paced, offers you different attack options and introduces new enemies regularly. If I stopped paying attention and mashed a button, I died. Unfortunately, that didn’t make up for the many shortcomings I mentioned, as well as some I didn’t (game-stopping glitches, very weak puzzles).
Stories: The Path of Destinies feels like half a game. It has a cool concept at its heart but fails to construct the necessary elements around that heart to provide a worthwhile experience.
Troy Media columnist Sam Stewart, an actor, has a diploma in theatre studies and a degree film studies. He also works in the tech industry and loves to indulge his lifelong passion for video games, from the classics to new releases. He tries to look at video games from a broad perspective: as a gamer, but also as someone who wants to know what a game is telling its audience, how it’s advancing the genre and industry, and how it challenges the player.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by all Troy Media columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Troy Media.
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