Fictorum [PC Review]

Have you ever wanted to be an awesomely powerful mage, capable of calling meteors down from the heavens, throwing lightning bolts from your fists and freezing enemies in their tracks?

Of course you have. And Fictorum is here to fulfill that particular power tripping fantasy.

Scraping Bottom Games took Fictorum to Kickstarter last year, with a very modest goal of raising $25,000, which they comfortably surpassed. Though the game is a couple of months overdue, it has at least arrived. That shouldn’t be remarkable, and yet it is!

Fictorum is a reasonably straightforward game, in that it’s a rogue-like in the vein of FTL. Your steps are constantly dogged by an overwhelming force chasing you down. The backstory here is that a magical miasma has made most of the world uninhabitable, with only the mountain peaks spared. Travel between the peaks is via a series of teleporting structures, most of which are guarded by The Inquisition.

Your character, the titular Fictorum, was part of a group at odds with the Inquisition forces. Captured and thrown into the miasma as a form of execution you miraculously survive and have your magical powers vastly enhanced, though your body is horribly scarred. Having nothing better to do, you set out for revenge, vowing to hunt down the Grand Inquisitor himself.

At least, this is what I have gleaned from some of the in-game story and a pre-release stream one of the developers put on. Very little is explained in the game, only what you can observe of the world and pick up through the not terribly well written, “choose your own adventure” style story that pops up each time you travel to a new mountaintop.

It’s not terribly important, as the guts of the game is amassing spells, runes and gear with which to crush anything that stands in your way. Enemy forces range from simple footsoldiers and archers, to other magic wielders and even corrupted monsters that have emerged from the miasma to terrorise villagers.

Those are all quite satisfying to fight in their own way, but the real party piece of the game is the building destruction. Going from simple cottages to walled castles, every structure in the game can be crumbled by magic. And as you advance in power buildings will not just crumble, but shatter into a thousand pieces.

The first time you shatter a building, you will probably be standing too close and a piece will hit you and you will die. You will learn from this and stand further away next time. But not far enough away, and a piece will hit you, and you will die.

This never really stops happening. As a result, playing on the hardcore difficulty is only for the masochists out there. Areas can be restarted in the regular mode, so dying to random shrapnel is just equal parts funny and frustrating. Building a powerful character in hardcore and getting taken out by a wayward piece of wall is incredibly frustrating.

EXPLOSIONS!!!

Part of what makes the building destruction so deadly is the ever increasing power of your Fictorum. A simple fireball spell can be augmented with a damage multiplying rune and a multi-shot rune to cover a huge swathe of the semi-randomly generated terrain. Add a chain reaction rune and sparks shoot off at crazy angles. Upgrade the spell and the runes with essence, the only in-game currency, and instead of three or four fireballs springing forth, there’s 8, and they split off into sparks 3 times each and suddenly a village square is exploding around you. All to kill one dumb AI with a sword.

Things get a lot worse when you take that same escalation and apply it to the meteor spell. A single meteor is enough to destroy virtually any single enemy in the game, and comfortably wreck any buildings you find. A cluster of meteors is truly devastating. Make those meteors seek targets and split into fireballs that also seek targets and you can devastate dozens of troops at once. Buildings practically disintegrate, flinging pieces far and wide.

Then, once your framerate recovers from the results, you could do it all again! There doesn’t seem to have been a great effort to curtail the demands the engine places on your system, so anything that can destroy more than one building will usually decimate your FPS until the game can catch up.

And that, more than any of the other finicky issues, is the main downfall of the game. It’s easy to shrug off occasionally trashing an item instead of equipping it or getting kerplunked by overzealous physics simulations. Having to hold back on casting your best spells can be a little frustrating.

You won’t reach that kind of CPU-crippling power early and the upgrades the game offers are randomised every new game. There’s a variety of starting loadouts, so if you find one class of spell too dangerous you can go after a different build next time.

You’re always going to want that bit of extra power though, aren’t you? It’s going to get you killed. It’ll be fun!

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