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.