Early Impressions: Lords Of Xulima

RPG Lords Of Xulima snuck out last month, forgetting to tell anyone it existed, and indeed that it seems rather good. I’ve played the first few hours of the 60+ hour game, and have some early impressions to share with you. For instance, here’s my impression of a games critic:

Lords Of Xulima has a generic name, a generic setting, a generic storyline… Can you have generic fun? I’m having lots of fun playing it. Not new fun, not fun in a way gaming hasn’t offered me before – incredibly familiar fun. But fun.

We get a lot of email about a lot of games, as you might imagine. And a great deal of it informs us that we’ve missed a “hidden gem”. So when an email arrived explaining that Lords Of Xulima was “the RPG hidden gem you’ve never played,” my eyes rolled. BAD EYES. Turns out, they’re not far wrong.

Numantian Games sent us one email about the game’s Kickstarter in 2013, and then nothing until its release last month. They sure kept it a secret. After raising over $35k, despite only asking for $10,000, the Spanish team of six have seen their project through to release – but rather forgot to tell anybody. And it’s a shame, as from what I’ve played so far, it’s really rather good.

And really rather difficult. Cor, it’s not forgiving from the start. Aiming to echo memories of the Ultima and Wizardry games, playing from an isometric view and a six-member player party, it’s indefatigably old-fashioned. Although, pleasingly, not rendered in retro pixels for once. The engine, created by the developers, is by no means a modern marvel – animations are especially clunky – but it’s a bright, pleasant world and does the job well enough. You’re given one character, Gaulen, and then can roll five more of your own, and off you pop on an adventure to save the thing with the gods versus the other gods and the Prince and the man with the wotsit and so on.

There’s something going on with the old Gods, and there’s a giant war, and Gaulen is chosen by Golot to go find out what’s keeping everyone from answering prayers and the like. It’s a bewildering jumble of lore thrown at you in the brief opening, to which I’ve struggled to pay much heed. Rather, I’m interested in pottering about the small opening village, and finishing quests in the surrounding area.

Which is no mean feat, given how unforgiving it can be. Combat is turn-based, a little card-game influenced, but mostly olde-worlde taking it in turns to hit each other with chosen attacks. With six characters on your side, and therefore six sets of abilities to level up, divert, improve and purchase for, there’s obviously lots for you to manage. In battle, you deploy those skills, magic spells, heals and so on, in the order of battle.

And that order is what stands out most about Xulima at first. It’s dynamic, the queue for turns stacked up on the right of the screen, able to be switched and swapped around depending upon how the battle’s going, who’s stunned, and who’s dead. It ensures you need to be a lot more careful about the order in which you pick off the set of foes, as well as trying to influence things in your favour.

But a lot of that difficulty comes from the game’s real lack of explanations. While I get as frustrated with the “W to move forward” tutorials as the next games player, it would have been good to see a little bit more prompting here for what was going on. And especially some slightly more clear prompts for when characters have levelled up. It’d also be good to see a smidgeon more help when it comes to getting started, getting your characters some basic equipment. Money is very scarce at first, and don’t expect the game to drop you the basics in battle, or hide it in chests in the woods. You’re going to need to stagger about in the near-nude for a good long while, and even after a few hours, half my crew are still walking around in bare feet.

A lot of this penny-pinching is the result of a rather cruel Prince chap, who’s banned the worship of the gods, taken over the temples and converted them into weirdo prisons, and posted soldiers at the entrances to villages who demand tolls from you every few days. 100 gold coins! It’s a fortune! And you have to pay it, unless you’ve become massively powerful and can chop them up into bits. Ensuring that you’ve got cash in your pocket makes it harder to spend freely. As indeed does the need to maintain rations. These are consumed as you move around, and are necessary for being able to rest when out of towns. Run out and you can’t sleep off your injuries. More can be bought from merchants, and you can pick them from bushes, or from dropped meats, to top up supplies.

Plug away at it, and you’ll eventually have the equipment and the skills necessary to do a little better. But it remains pretty tricky stuff (if played at the recommended pretty tricky difficulty, I should stress – there is a mode they say is much easier, but they suggest the tougher setting). Injuries from battles require some hefty healing, and that consumes resources, which in turn consumes gold, which is your perpetual concern. Which is all good! Thank goodness, an RPG where I’m not infinitely rich from the opening moments.

I’m still very early on in the game, but I wanted to alert RPG fans to it in time for their Christmas holidays. They say it’s over 60 hours long, and it’s all rather nicely put together, reminiscent of classic RPGs while cutting out a lot of the faffy bad interface stuff that plagued them. From my first few hours, I’d certainly recommend a look. It’ll set you back a not inconsiderable £15 on Steam. Or it’s the same price via the dev’s Humble Widget, which will see them get 25% more of your money, and get you a Steam key anyway.

23 Comments

  1. Asdfreak says:

    Sounds exactly like what I am longing for at the moment. I like difficult games but I dislike most of those pseude-retro badly made rougelikes, including stuff like isaac, where I can see why people might like them, but they just feel as ultimatly boring to me as CoD

    • commentingaccount says:

      Part of the appeal of Isaac, FWIW, is due to its speed. It’s an extremely fast paced game.

    • Wowbagger says:

      You think Isaac is a badly made rogue like? I’d love to hear your reasoning.

    • MaXimillion says:

      Binding of Isaac is not a roguelike.

  2. commentingaccount says:

    “gold, which is your perpetual concern. Which is all good! Thank goodness, an RPG where I’m not infinitely rich from the opening moments.”

    Honestly, in every RPG I’ve played lately, money has been an issue. I’m not used to RPGs without early cashflow issues. The only exception I can think of is Costume Quest, and that’s because cash is only used to buy the patch things that add various bonuses or attacks to your battle menu. Even then I’ve found myself grinding for cash in that game, just not as often.

    • Morph says:

      Maybe John’s thinking of Dragon Age: I. I’ve played over 50 hours and haven’t spent a single gold piece on anything.

  3. mattevansc3 says:

    It’s probably just me but that dynamic queuing system isn’t really that special. JRPGs and Japanese Tactics games have been employing that exact system for over a decade. Even EA stole it for their LOTR: Final Fantasy edition two generations ago.

  4. Drake Sigar says:

    Ah great, I can see myself just leaving town having forgotten to buy torches or something mundane but essential, and then when I try to get back in the guards demand another hundred gold.

    Maybe they can stamp my hand with a little star symbol like at the pub.

    • Premium User Badge

      John Walker says:

      Or you can chop the guards up with an axe.

      But it doesn’t work quite like that – it’s every three days or so they’ll charge you, so if you pop back forgetting something, they’ll leave you alone.

  5. XhomeB says:

    Why on Earth hasn’t it been released on GOG already? TEH SCANDAL it what it is.

  6. ramirezfm says:

    I never knew it existed! Thank you RPS.

  7. Nice Save says:

    £11.24 from Humble – I saw it a few days ago and wasn’t impressed by the trailer which is mainly the main character slowly walking around.

    Think I’ll pick it up now though.

    link to humblebundle.com

  8. roguewombat says:

    Nice Easter Egg in this release – it was inspired by the CRPG Addict blog, and he at first thought they were just spamming him when they told him it was released:

    link to crpgaddict.blogspot.com

    He seems to dig it now, too.

  9. jrodman says:

    I saw this on steam recommendations (strangely!) but the comments seemed to say that players were frustrated at the difficulty curve and combined with the lack of punch of any of the talent tree options available to them.

    Has anyone here played it? Different opinions?

    • The True Turrican says:

      I’ve only tried the Classic aka recommended difficulty and can’t confirm the steep learning curve. If you’re new to turn based combat and/or grindy resouce management, this game doesn’t pose a good starting point, but if you’ve played and enjoyed games like Baldur’s Gate or Might & Magic on any difficulty above Normal, you’ll do fine.

      The combat can be challenging, but that’s mostly due to its randomness imo. There’s enemies that can pretty much stun-lock your whole party, but sometimes they’ll go for a regular attack instead – it’s down to luck a lot of the time, which prompts frequent quickloads. Also, every fight takes forever. Your characters miss or get blocked way too often for my tastes and even if they manage to hit, the enemies have too many hitpoints for a single blow to matter. So if it’s the combat you’re enjoying the most in this kind of games, you’d be better off playing Original Sin or even Might & Magic X.

      Other than that, I wouldn’t know what other people found especially difficult. Maybe the fact that enemies a few levels above yours will usually crush you and since random encounters are limited and there’s no respawns, it’s not possible to grind your way up to ’em, inhabiting your explorative urge and making the game seem very linear in the process.

      The skill trees are pretty much your standard repertoir. Especially in the beginning, they make for a decent sense of progression. Unfortunately, most of that is neutralized once the enemies start having superior skills and/or tactics, so it’s comparable to level scaling.

      From my experience, the game’s biggest flaw is its awfully grindy nature. It’s hard to amass gold when you have to spend it on food, toll, town portalesque crystals, and temple services like curse lifting. It seemed to me like the devs tried to artificially prolong the total play time through those mechanics, just so the game could claim to provide 100+ hours of entertainment.
      I couldn’t be bothered with reloading, manual backtracking and the general feeling of wasting time anymore after roughly 25 hours.

      All that said, it might still be your cup of tea. After all, there isn’t too many JRPG titles on the PC and if you’re looking for just that and are willinng to accept forgettable characters, MMO quests, and the generic story, you might have fun with it.
      Maybe all those fun RPGs and 4Xs that were released this year just spoiled me, but I think there’s better games out there for 14 bucks.

      I recommend checking out some critic reviews or let’s plays first – there really isn’t much to spoil in the early game. Otherwise, I’d recommend Grimrock 2, if you haven’t played that yet. It doesn’t have turn based combat, but it’s way more fun.

      • jrodman says:

        Unfortunately i found Grimrock 1 draining, so I am not planning on trying 2. it required far too much squaredancing and the demanded rate of clicking was far too high for me.

        I loved the turn based combat of all kinds of ancient RPGs like wizardry, Ultima 4, etc, but it wasn’t really very challenging. Sure sometimes bad things happened and you reloaded but it wasn’t constant at all.

      • Truemas says:

        I also find it strange that so many people have gold problems. If you look carefully in the first Village you find 4 Treasure chest with around 2000 Gold. After the first Impious Prince i have 9k Gold and i don´t know how to spent them.
        I think that this game has the best progression balance i have seen in that kind of games. There are encounters that you can come back to later on in the game and the game makes it clear when you are in areas that arent recommended at your current state without beeing to easy in mainplot areas. I find the battles really challenging if you want to be carefull with you most important ressource (food for resting your party) and due to the fact that you have spent a lot on accuracy (Agi and Weapon skills) on your melee-characters to get a little bit of control over your hits in Battle.
        I rarely played a cRPG that maintained the difficulty level but gave me an open world ( you can get access to non-linear areas early). You have to always carefully plan you next step.
        After 15 hours of gameplay i hunger for more and this is a good sign. =)

  10. TheBloke says:

    £15 is ‘not inconsiderable’ for (the potential of) 60 hours of gaming??

    I realise it’s not exactly triple-A, but £15 is the price of a delivery pizza! I’d say that’s the definition of inconsiderable, these days :)

  11. raiders5000 says:

    I saw this game on Steam the day of release. It was $18 then. I went to the devs website to get more info on it. After reading up on it, I was sold. Plus, the devs were selling the game for $17. I bought it from their site. Currently it’s on sale at Steam for $14. I’d like to say to future purchasers, get the game from the devs site. Support them if you can. Since I got the game on release, there has been a steady dose of small patches released almost 2x or 3x a week. And the game is pretty much bug-free of any nasties to begin with. This is just my opinion, but LoX beats the crap out of LoG 1 and 2 in lore and gameplay. I’ll give LoG the graphics though. But I’d like to get other’s opinions on their take of the games.

  12. RegisteredUser says:

    “pleasingly, not rendered in retro pixels for once. ”

    Take heed, endless row of “if I make it look old, people must like it MORE, right????” indie game devs.

    You can make oldschool games that don’t look like huge affronts to a 1080p resolution and still be retro. Or just plain make indie games that are astonishingly beautiful and not lose any indie cred. Or whatever in the world motivates people to aim for visuals that make 16×16 pixels represent one game pixel.

    Please don’t hate me for liking pretty things. :p

  13. Neurotic says:

    Looks a wee bit like Div Div, which fact gives me the horn.