God is dead. The inquisition delivers severe punishment to those who practice any religion. The sword that dispatched the dead god holds amazing power for anyone who wields it. Children born with a certain scar, the prophetic mark of the dead god, are killed before they reach adulthood. This is Kult, the world of Heretic Kingdoms: The Inquisition.
With Heretic Kingdoms, Got Game Entertainment presents an action RPG featuring some interesting new elements in a compelling setting. It’s not a perfect game, looking and feeling somewhat aged on release, but innovations make it worthwhile for fans of the genre. Moreover, at a bargain price of $30, it’s a steal for anyone looking for a story driven game with a deep character development system.
What most players will notice first about Heretic Kingdoms are the graphics, but not for the right reasons. Reminiscent of Diablo or the Baldur’s Gate series, the camera follows the character through static environments from an isometric view. In other words, it looks at least five years old. Yet while the graphical style is practically ancient, what’s there has been implemented very well. While there’s no camera rotation to look around buildings and other obstacles, the camera can zoom in and out with clean scaling effects and excellent character detail when close up. While there’s nothing mind blowing here, the graphics are serviceable and merge well with the style of play.
It’s this play style that’s really the highlight of the game. Introduced are several new elements, including an intriguingly deep, addictive system of powers and character bonuses. In this attunement system, every piece of equipment has an inherent ability locked away. The instructions make it sound difficult, but in practice it’s actually very easy, being complex rather than complicated. Each piece of equipment has a particular power that is initially unavailable. Once that equipment is used in enough battles, the character becomes attuned and its ability is unlocked. The trick is that most attunements require specific conditions. Many are elemental, which means a weapon of matching elemental nature must be used simultaneously. Others may require that certain types of armor or even no armor are worn, and others have multiple requirements. Once unlocked, the attunement will be active as long as the conditions are met, so much of the game’s strategy comes from judicious choice of equipment to satisfy the requirements for multiple attunements.
This attunement system does away with traditional character classes and abilities gained by level. There are still level advancements based on experience points gained from combat or quests, but these levels only increase stats and the maximum number of attunements active at once. All abilities must be learned through attunements by practicing with equipment. To build a combat-heavy warrior, use swords, axes, and heavy armor to unlock offensive and defensive attunements. For a magic user, use elemental weapons and magic rings, boots, and cloaks to unlock their special attunements. Other archetypes like archers and rogues are possible, as well as practically any combination imaginable. If after playing one style you decide to try something else, it’s as easy as switching equipment and fighting until the attunements are unlocked.
The other major new element is the Dreamworld. This is a realm of existence that coincides with the normal world, but few beings can coexist in both. Ghosts, spirits, and other normally unseen forces inhabit the Dreamworld. At any time, in any place, one can enter the Dreamworld, and there are often secrets to be found there, or specific goals may require a trip. This effectively doubles the number of locations in the game, as every location must be explored in the real world and the Dreamworld.
Heretic Kingdoms also features an interesting healing system that does away with disposable healing items and a magic system that eschews magic points in favor of time charged attunements as spells. All of these mechanics combine to create a truly innovative experience for role-playing fans, and hopefully Got Game Entertainment will make some sequels with a more modern look and feel using these proven elements.
By now, most of us are sick of the typical “save the world” RPG storylines. Heretic Kingdoms does a decent job of staying away from that clich?, while still giving the player a stake in the action. As the story opens, you play a female inquisitor on a mission to find and destroy the sword that killed the dead god. Rumors have it surfacing in a monastery, but on arrival that holy site is torched, in ruins. The sword has the ability to grant its possessor great but not world-consuming power, and that’s not really the reason you’re after it. The inquisition’s goal is to enforce a ban on all religion, and the sword is an important religious artifact. Of course, as the game develops there are twists and turns in the story, and the main character finds that she is more important than she thought; it’s all just enough to keep the interest level up.
The game is so story-centric that there is a fair amount of railroading, however. Events proceed by opening up various new locations, each one fairly small — a few winding passages, perhaps an entrance to a smaller interior area, each one taking between fifteen minutes and a half-hour to fully explore. Travel between these areas happens automatically via an overworld map, so the player is effectively limited to unlocked areas. Since new areas appear at fairly regular and scripted intervals, there’s a feeling of being forced to advance through the story. There are points at which decisions can be made with minor story branches, and while these do add a needed sense of freedom and help determine which of the six endings you’ll reach, they don’t seem to have major effects on later plot points.
Overall, this is a game about the details, with the story there to keep things moving. In addition to the game mechanics, other factors like the sounds shine through. Ambient sounds are excellent, and fine points like the different sounds of footfall on different surfaces are terrific. The grunts of battle can get repetitive, and there is a distinct lack of voice acting forcing the player to read mountains of text, but the sounds are otherwise superb. The game also offers a generally robust experience, and those who enjoy it will find enough here to play through several times, experimenting with equipment and attunements they didn’t try before, making different choices, and trying to unlock different endings.
Heretic Kingdoms ultimately proves that innovation is alive and well. RPG fans should play it just to experiment with the refreshing attunement system, and anyone interested in a well written ? though reading intensive ? story will find the $30 price tag attractive. This is a real sleeper, a game looking unimpressive but more than worth the going price; don’t let it slip under your radar.