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Wot I Think: Two Hours Of The Legend Of Candlewind

Your candle burned out long before

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 1920x1080, borderless window. It does this in the middle of my 2560x1440 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.

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