Wot I Think: Two Hours Of The Legend Of Candlewind

We loves us some old-school RPG adventuring at RPS, as demonstrated by our giddy delight at the existence of the Legends Of Grimrock games, and the new news about the possible return of Underworld. So the sight of The Legend Of Candlewind: Nights & Candles gave us a little flutter. More olde worlde dungeoneering! But gosh, if the problems don’t start awfully quickly.

The game loads, for me, in a 1920×1080, borderless window. It does this in the middle of my 2560×1440 desktop, with no option to move it, adjust it, in any way. The opening menu screen proffers no selection for “options”, leaving me only the choice of picking a “new adventure”. And possibly the most underwhelming opening screen in gaming history:

Yellow Arial font on a brown dirge. Click the text away and things are even more bleak. But! An “options” button bottom left. Except the “options” are loading, saving, quitting or credits. No actual options. That of course means it’s also not possible to reassign the keys, and because it’s the year 1988, WASD aren’t available for movement. So I stagger forward with the arrow keys, and an enemy fades into existence in front of me. Fades? Odd. Anyway, to attack! Or, um, well, not sure. Because there aren’t any instructions, no tutorial, no tool-tips, nothing. I seem only to be able to have my characters get into defensive positions (“Hey, what did I do?!”), apart from one who has a magic book. Click on it and spells seem available, except when I click on them nothing happens. Oh, it’s because the enemy is a tile too far away – certainly not clear. And none of the spells are projectiles? They look like projectiles. Anyway, he steps nearer and I can click on swords by the portraits and he’s toast.

It occurs to me at this point that I’ve a part of four near-identical looking lushly haired characters about whom I know nothing, nor had any choice regarding. Clicking on their portraits I can see their inventories. And then spotting an icon all but the same colour as the background, I can see their stats, where their names are revealed. People, meet Garrison Hiffs (Fighter/Magician/Archer), Shailee Frostflower (Magician/Archer/Girl), Walk Oakcutter (Fighter), and the enigmatic Sarago (Magician). Okay, I concede, given a thousand years I’d never have come up with better names on my own.

Right, so, onward! Oh. The view of the corridor went black. Darkness. Another goblin in the distance, but again, I cannot fathom how to fire an arrow or spell at him, and apparently my team isn’t prepared to step forward toward him. (Not only do the arrow keys not work, but the on-screen movement icons are gone too.) I just have to stand still and wait?

Right, so, I checked the Steam forums for the game, and amongst rather a lot of consternation from players is this remark from the publisher:

“How to equip arrows? Easy! Split up the arrows and put the splitted one into the hand of the character. That way you can also equip the fire arrows.”

Um, what? So not, say, click on them? Or drag them to the bow? Or, I don’t know, have arrows automatically equipped when you’re holding a bow? You instead have to hold down left click on the arrows, move the cursor over a little icon, and let go. Then you’re holding an arrow, which you equip in the player’s left hand. One at a time. It’s realistic, I guess! Clumsy, unexplained, bizarrely awkward, but yes, archers do tend to pull one arrow at a time. I fired. The goblin blocked it. As indeed did he with my spell, again, fired by holding down left click, and moving the cursor over a grey blob, and letting go. Blocked. But now I can use projectiles!

The corridor goes off in two directions, each splitting further, all identically coloured. I lit things up using a light spell it seems I have, and revealed browny-orange nothingness, no idea what I’m supposed to be doing, nor any reason to go in any direction. So I picked one and trudged on, only then noticing that there is absolutely no music. Nor background sound effects. Just an eerie silence. In fact, there are no footstep sounds, bumps when walking into walls, noises for swallowing a health potion… just creepy nothing. Enemies continue to fade into existence, rather than move around the tiles independently, and they continue to defend themselves against projectiles, while my party stands transfixed to the floor, apparently too terrified to move.

It becomes very quickly apparent that this isn’t a finished game. Apparently I met a travelling healer, who appeared in the form of a text box. Later enemies appear in teams of four, but there’s still only one of them on screen. You fight one at a time, and for some reason have no access to your inventory during battles, so can’t use potions and so on. And I’ve yet to figure out how to equip a torch. The party member who had them is now dead, but none of the others appear willing to hold them. The same goes for many items. Goodness, this is an odd thing.

It feels like an early prototype. On the second floor you “meet” an elderly lady, asking for a torch. (A text dialogue in an empty corridor.) Agree to let her have one and you’ll gain 300XP. Although on my second time attempting this, it let me give her all my torches, 300XP a time. (Although XP is so poorly balanced that you need 4000 to get all four to level 2, with the average kill getting you 80.) Chests and doors are locked, and sometimes you can open them, sometimes you can’t, but I’ve yet to encounter a key. I guess it maybe has something to do with killing enemies, but since they spawn at random, and there’s no sign of loot, it’s hard to square it up.

Early on the second level there’s an attack by the exact same group of goblins you’ve only encountered so far, that finishes with a surprise (sorry!) goblin shaman. She is, so far as I can tell, impervious to all attacks but for magical ones. And since you’ll have just fought three other goblins, aren’t allowed to heal or restore mana during battles, the chances are your single magic flinger isn’t going to be capable of taking her out while the rest of your team is brutally slaughtered as they haplessly swing missing attacks around her. (And let’s be clear, there’s no actual swinging – just a “swoosh” sound effect. Although, hey, a sound effect!) After dying three times to her, and restarting twice to see if I was missing anything, I was then left resorting to clicking on the “Wait for monster” button, to line up a string of dreary goblins in an effort to see whether level 2 might make a difference.

And then I gave up. 20XP each for each kill, 375 to go, nothing else to do. I’d be out of healing and mana potions before I got close. And I read that there’s no choice when you do finally level up. And that’s where I stopped. On the second floor. I’ve read that others have finished the game in two hours. Congratulations to them, and their patience. I’ve wrestled with it for about that long, and it’s a shell. There’s no map, which is true to the era it echoes, but remains frustrating. There’s no sense of movement, and secrets are unmarked walls you can just walk through, meaning the blipping transitions are extremely confusing. If there’s a way to rest, I’ve not found it.

It’s very odd that this isn’t in Early Access, and appeals on the Steam forums for information on updates have not been responded to. It’s £7 on Steam, but I would widely avoid.

44 Comments

  1. Cerzi says:

    Was convinced, for some reason, that the review was going to do a u-turn and conclude that here’s an excellent game despite these almost nostalgic quirks. Disappointed that there wasn’t, in fact, a happy ending, and the game is just plain poop. Does make me wonder what the point of the article is, then, when I can’t imagine many people have even heard of this. I mean, critically laying into poor games that have received undeserved praise is a noble deed – not so sure about picking on the weird kid with no friends.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      When the weird kid with no friends says he’s a “Game Master”, and he turns out to be a great GM and the two of you end up best friends, and tabletop RPGs turn out to be great fun, it’s great. When the weird kid with no friends turns out to be responsible for a Gaming Horror Story or two or three, that kind of thing deserves to be picked on.

      • Premium User Badge

        John Walker says:

        It’s not about “picking on” anyone. A new game of a genre our readers are enthused about is on sale, so I played it for a couple of hours, and reported why it was not a good thing on which to spend money.

        • FuriKuri says:

          How dare you do your job.

          In this economy, no less.

        • smuphix says:

          Hey John, as I understand you like dungeon crawlers :) – we are working on a steampunk crawler called VAPORUM link to vaporum-game.com . The game is not yet in full production, but even now I think it is much further than this one you have played. Check us out! ;)

          • Premium User Badge

            John Walker says:

            Please do email me. john@rock… Cheers!

          • karnak says:

            Hey! A “Steampunk-Grimrock”… Looks nice!
            I really liked what I saw in your trailer. Keep up the good work.

          • Casimir's Blake says:

            The notion of a “Steampunk dungeon crawler” is an interesting one, but why why why stick to the 90-degree-angle movement of Grimrock? It’s the one thing that panders to nostalgia and doesn’t really provide any gameplay benefit. This is 2015: make it free-look, free-movement!!

            Sigh, why do Ultima Underworld style first person dungeon crawlers have to be so damn rare? :(

          • karnak says:

            @ Casimir’s Blake

            I think they’re using the “Grimrock” engine (maybe I’m wrong).
            Hence the similar movement style.

          • jrodman says:

            It definitely has a purpose and that purpose is a particular framework on which to hang combat and puzzles.

            This is aside from the fact that the combat and puzzles in Grimrock were not my cup of tea.

          • Wizardry says:

            90 degree rotation should only be used for first-person turn-based games. In fact, for them it should be a necessity. For real-time games though? You’re right. Just go with free movement. Ultima Underworld did it successfully 23 years ago.

          • April March says:

            Is Vaporum real time, though? It’s hard to tell from the trailer, but it seems to be turn-based, only played by someone who’s really impatient…

            Anyway, sounds like a cool game, look forward to more, best of luck, kisses XOXO

          • MellowKrogoth says:

            Please ignore the crowd who don’t “get” why Grimrock-style (or rather, Throne of Chaos-like game, to use the better reference) are good.

            I *would* play one that’s turn-based though. Loved Wizardry VI, just thought it needed a better story and setting after the castle.

        • MadTinkerer says:

          “It’s not about “picking on” anyone.”

          Yeah, you guys really need to fix the edit feature. Because as soon as I hit “Opinion, away!” I realized that was poor phrasing. Especially when I’m using a tabletop RPG metaphor to describe a video game interface issue.

          Rather than “picking on”, what I really meant was that GMs who don’t keep the needs of the players in mind as well as game developers who are oblivious to the needs of an interface deserve criticism, creative criticism if possible. They need to have feedback about what works and what doesn’t but if they stubbornly plow ahead with their bad design/story/GM habits, then there’s nothing wrong with picking on the product.

          That’s what I meant to say.

    • Runty McTall says:

      Can I just say that I don’t get where you’re coming from here at all. If a reviewer plays an obscure game and doesn’t like it, what should he do?

      Seems to me that if a reviewer tries an obscure game and doesn’t like it there is a greater responsibility to actually put up the review as anyone considering buying it will not have as much material available to them to decide whether they’ll like it.

      Or do a certain number of people have to waste their money on a bad but little known game in order for it to become mainstream and thus, by your definition, available for reviewers to be critical of?

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      At best you’re suggesting that only the popular games should be reviewed. At worst you’re implying there should be some kind of political agenda behind what gets reviewed and what doesn’t. I think RPS know their audience well and select reviews based on their audience’s interests. Oldschool RPGs, or anything giving off the slightest whiff of oldschool RPGness, is worth writing about. This actually does sound like something I would play and get something out of, if only to do a comparative study with Grimrock on what makes dungeon crawler good and what makes one bad. I just wouldn’t pay £7 for it :)

      It’s the sort of game that, if it really was from the early 90s, would end up as an obscure addition on a pirate games CD that would amuse you for an afternoon when you thought you had no games left to play, and give you lots of ideas about what you’d like to see from the genre in the future.

      • pepperfez says:

        That’s a small tragedy of our era of hyperabundant games: There never is an afternoon where you think you don’t have a game, because your Steam/GoG library keeps reminding you otherwise, so you never bother to wring out whatever value there is in something mediocre like Candlewind.

      • DrollRemark says:

        Actually, I think RPS picks games to review based on what they find interesting.

    • Cerzi says:

      I guess my issue is that all it takes is a glance at the steam page of the game to know it’s almost certainly not worth looking at (it has 16 negative reviews and 0 positive). As someone who is very happy at the gradual reintroduction of old school PC game mechanics into modern gaming, I just feel it would be better to let oddities like this slip away with some morsel of dignity instead of parading their cadaver around for amusement. Not that it isn’t somewhat entertaining to read about games that are so fundamentally rubbish; rather, in a genre which could do with as much encouragement as at all possible, I feel like such public ridicule ends up doing more harm than good.

      • Sandepande says:

        You mean like forcing developers to actually develop their games?

      • thebigJ_A says:

        It’s a review.

        The game is bad. He’s telling us on his highly visible medium so we don’t waste money on it like those unfortunates who posted those negative reviews on Steam.

        What’s the misunderstanding?

      • thebigJ_A says:

        And no one is “parading around” a corpse. The dev is right now charging money. That’s the opposite of “slipping away with dignity”.

        If I don’t buy a con artist’s snake oil, is it letting him slip away with dignity to watch him con the old lady next door?

      • Premium User Badge

        John Walker says:

        It’s well worth noting that often really terrible games can get peculiarly positive Steam reviews. While they can sometimes be a useful indication for which way a game’s being received, they’re not always.

        And of course the opposite direction! A game could be getting panned by Steam reviews, and we’d find something really special about it.

        Which is to say – we’re a site that gives our opinions about games. You could equally argue that The Dissolve might as well not bother reviewing movies, because IMDB has a user star rating.

  2. MadTinkerer says:

    So it’s everything that I feared Legend of Grimrock might be, but this one isn’t a pleasant surprise. Maybe the Candlewind devs need to actually play Grimrock.

  3. JamesTheNumberless says:

    Not surprising we’re seeing stuff like this now. There were plenty of lacklustre attempts to cash in on this style of RPG back when it was first popular too. The problem here isn’t the nostalgic quirks or tweaks to the engine/formula, but the complete lack of any actual game. The “legend of” name is enough in itself to raise alarm bells.

  4. K_Sezegedin says:

    Candlewind: Nights and Candles. Wow these guys must really love candles.

    And is the party art schwarzenegger’s face with some blur over it?

  5. vorador says:

    It’s like somebody put their Game Design graduation project into Steam. Which got a C-.

    • vorador says:

      Well for some reason i can’t edit my comment but i wanted to add.

      The full name is really “The Legend of Candlewind: Nights & Candles”. So bad.

      • Monggerel says:

        RPS don’t want no comment editing cus typoes are hilarius.

        There was probably some kinda announcemant about this but I’m dum

    • JamesTheNumberless says:

      You know, this actually makes a lot more sense when I think about it this way… They could potentially get a good mark for reflective practice if they’ve learned why this was a bad idea for a project and identified all the problems with balancing, lacking content, and picking something that was unfinishable in the timeframe.

  6. ffordesoon says:

    Is there really no character creation? That’s a cardinal sin in a first-person dungeon crawler. It’s not as if a player is just dying to find out what will happen to Garrison Hiffs (good lord, Garrison Hiffs!) next.

    • strangeloup says:

      Not to be confused with animated images of Han Solo and Indiana Jones, which would be Harrison Gifs.

      I’ll see myself out.

  7. bobbobob says:

    Is it safe to say that we won’t be seeing a 45min let’s(not)play on this then?

  8. Monggerel says:

    Disappointed the game wasn’t called Candlejack.
    Drops mic, the dull thud getting no reply. Rust peels from an old Kamaz. Rain starts up, brackish and oily. A lone stray shuffles down the road.
    All is lost.
    All is lost.

  9. Fenix says:

    Is “girl” really a class in this game or were you making fun of them… I seriously can’t tell D:

  10. GrethorHellscream says:

    The game might not be highly rated, but gawd dayum if that character/monster art isn’t beautiful.

    Might not pay full price but totally gonna pick up if it comes down.