Lichdom: Battlemage (from here on called Battlemage, because why the hell wasn’t it?) launches entirely on its premise to “make the mage feel like a badass” which, frankly, doesn’t seem like it should need any help. Being the avatar of the obviously nerdy fantasy of “guy reads a lot of books, becomes god” might make him the focus of whispered gags between the fighter and the rogue, but it’s not like they’re going to muster the balls to say them out loud. Not if they value remaining invertebrates, that is.
Battlemage as a game is entirely focused on its combat, and thus on its crafting. You craft spells to throw them at your enemies, to make your enemies softer so they splat harder when you throw spells at them, or to keep them still so they’re easier to throw spells at. It’s a good system, in that it’s exactly as deep as it needs to be to provide a useful change of pace without requiring years of intensive study to get right. There’s a lot of math involved, meaning calling fire from the sky or transforming your enemies into hosts for swarms of locusts plays frighteningly similarly to filling a tax return, but it’s not hard to avoid all that once you know how it works. You’ll likely only end up crafting six or seven spells a level when you get access to the higher level gear and your old stuff stops disintegrating zombies like it did.
Thankfully, a lot of the time it seems to be fairly self-explanatory, and, once you figure out the general gist of it, it all falls into place. After about ten hours I still never figured out the difference between an inciting pool and an enchanting one, but I did know how to make either into a pit of hellfire and death for my enemies, which is honestly all you need.
You might have noticed that any description of this game makes it sound brutal as fuck.
It really kind of is. There’s a genuine fun to throwing blasts of energy at the beginning, not too sure of what’s going to happen when they land, and experimenting with the different spell effects. Starting out with fire, ice and lightning you’ve got pretty decent damage, freeze and weakness powers, and them some additional weirdness to play about with.
And then you get corruption, and the game begins to play itself.
This is a problem the game was always going to have. If you give the player enough options there’s going to be a best one. It’s not a flaw, so much as a theoretical inevitability. But Corruption doesn’t just take the cake, it takes all the cake. Ever. Then it wages an immortal war, rising new soldiers from the corpses of the fallen in an eternal crusade to annihilate all mention of cake from history. Because that’s how it works. (Raising hordes of allies from the infested bodies of your enemies, I mean. Not the cake thing, though I would play the shit out of that game)
You get access to it pretty early and after you master how it works, you’ll settle into a pattern of freeze, infest, and then one single fireball to kick start the reaction. After that all that’s left is to practice your evil laugh as a typhoon of chittering filth washes over all that oppose you. It’s a good job that your enemies are so unquestionably evil, or I’d start feeling sorry for them.
I’ve just realized that I’ve gone this whole review mentioning little else but the crafting system, and that’s because this game has little else but the crafting system. It’s pretty, skyboxes filled with glorious, moon cracking glory and nicely glittering iceflows, but beside that, a little bland. Every enemy, including the bosses, is little more than some variety of bullet sponge, grinding their difficulty out of that fact that they apparently eat fireballs for breakfast. All in all, it makes for a remarkably bland experience once you know how everything fits together.
Frankly, it feels more like an FPS than a fantasy, and a poor one at that. Your only interaction with he world is to hurl destruction at it and while, admittedly there’s a lot more interest in crafting spells than upgrading ammo capacity, they both work out to roughly the same thing – bigger numbers taken away from your enemies heath bars. Combine this with the game’s biggest flaw – it’s pretty but entirely corridor planned levels, and you end up with something that falls a little short of interest before the end.
Or, to put it in the manner of a PC gamer soundbite; “it’s like CoD with spells.”
Developer: Xaviant Games
Released: 26th August 2014
Score: 5/9 Hammers