Have gun, will shoot. In video games, there isn’t any power fantasy more potent than the first-person shooter. Just think about how those games present their perspective of the world. You’re staring down the barrel of a weapon throughout the experience, and it’s always either firing or looking for something to fire at. There are outliers, but most FPS games exist to bestow power.
It makes sense, then, that Xaviant’s Lichdom: Battlemage – a game that endeavors to remind the world that wizards are forever badass – is realized as a shooter. It’s got some very deep RPG and crafting systems, and a journey that spans 20-plus hours (not counting New Game+), but there is action in Lichdom‘s heart. Non-stop action, for that matter, as mana bars and other barriers on spellcasting don’t exist. There’s simply the glorious freedom to blast away with abandon at anything you see.
It’s a world that seems ripe for exploration, but also one that’s constrained by its shooter design.
It’s just too bad the game feels so bloated.
It isn’t the story causing the bloat, though that’s not to say it isn’t a problem of its own. Lichdom‘s intro establishes the backstory for your chosen battlemage – the options come down to male or female – which amounts to a revenge quest. There’s a grave threat facing the world, one that’s directly impacted your personal life, and you have been chosen to wield the magical powers capable of putting down this menace. That’s all explained in the opening half hour, with additional exposition delivered primarily by a scout – the gender you didn’t choose at the game’s start – who pops up at specific checkpoints.
As first efforts go, it’s hard not to admire indie newcomer Xaviant’s execution. Lichdom is a large game, and a gorgeous one. From snow-capped mountains to vast desert wastelands, pristine ice fields to suffocating cave systems, you’ve got the full gamut of high fantasy landscapes represented here. It’s a world that seems ripe for exploration, but also one that’s constrained by its shooter design.
And really, it’s too big. There’s a deeply satisfying magical combat system that ties into a spellcrafting mechanic. You pop off ranged spells and area of effect spells, use short-range teleportation to dodge, and even explode in a “nova” of energy if you time a magical block just so. But those energizing components exist within a 20-hour journey that’s been built as a corridor shooter. There’s simply not enough variety to keep the boredom at bay all throughout.
A game like Dark Souls – which Lichdom most definitely takes a page from – bolsters its technique and timing-heavy combat mechanics with exploration and light puzzle-solving. Lichdom offers no such respite; you advance until there’s a fight and then advance some more. The very occasional branching path that leads to an optional treasure room that amounts to a stiffer fight for a larger reward. Bosses mix things up a bit, requiring actual strategic thinking to match their more far-ranging attack patterns (compared to standard enemies), but they appear too infrequently.
That all of the fighting takes some hours to start wearing thin is a credit to the depth of the spell system Xaviant built. It’s difficult to even describe, there’s so much going on. A spell breaks down into three basic components: The Sigil, which defines its basic effects (fire, ice, kinesis, lightning, etc.); the Pattern, which defines the shape of the spell (bolt, ray, lobbed ball of energy, pool, etc.); and the Augmentation, which applies stat bonuses.
Too often, players find themselves in a position where they need to backtrack to an earlier point in the story so they can grind for better gear.
There’s more than that as well. Spells can take three different forms, doing direct damage, damage over time, or “Mastery,” which serves to amplify the effects of the other two. There’s also a whole synthesis system in which older components can be broken down and combined, to create more powerful crafting pieces. There’s enough tutorial to lay out the basics, but optimization only comes through experimentation. That’s by design.
Like any self-respecting loot-grinder RPG, Lichdom uses Diablo-style color-coded pickups to denote rarity. In yet another welcome twist that helps keep the bloat at bay, extended periods of survival breed greater rewards. Every time you reach a checkpoint, the frequency with which rare treasure drops increases. Die, and that meter resets. There’s no other penalty for death in Lichdom, but being robbed of sweet gear turns out to be a significant one on its own.
It’s here that we come to the heart of this game’s problems. Too often, players find themselves in a position where they need to backtrack to an earlier point in the story just so they can grind up some better gear, that then enables them to tackle the tougher enemies. It’s an issue of pacing. You’re progressing through the story faster than you’re gaining power. It feels very much at odds with the aggressively linear level design.
There is something here, however. Lichdom: Battlemage might not be for everyone, but those that really take to the crafting system and the combat grind have a deep, rewarding game ahead of them. More than that, there’s a significant endgame in the way New Game+ offers up even higher-end crafting components that fundamentally alter the makeup of spells they’re attached to. The underlying ideas are all rock-solid, but the game is just too big for the limited scope of its design.
Fans of the challenge in games like Dark Souls and the first-person loot grind in the Borderlands series will appreciate the way Lichdom: Battlemage slides comfortably in between the two, with the added bonus of putting players in the role of a badass mage. It’s far from perfect, with too much bloat around the mid-section and uneven pacing, but there’s a lot to like in the way Xaviant blends the thrill of hurling spells with the power fantasy of staring down the barrel of a lethal weapon.
This game was reviewed on a first-gen Alienware X51 gaming PC using a Steam code provided by Xaviant.
DISCLOSURE NOTICE: The author of this review was granted an exclusive opportunity to visit Xaviant’s studio in April 2014, and the trip was paid for by the developer.
- Gorgeous world
- Satisfyingly nuanced combat
- Deep spellcrafting system
- Uneven progression pacing results in too much grind
- Linear corridor-style shooting a bad fit for a 20-hour game