“Portal Knights” (7 out of 10); Keen Games/505 Games; available on PC.
In today’s video game environment, we’re not exactly experiencing a lack of RPG’s, crafting games or even combinations of the two. As that is our reality, a trip into the voxel-filled world of “Portal Knights” isn’t necessarily something we haven’t seen before. That being said, it appears as though Keen Games has injected their newest title with a healthy dose of N64 nostalgia—if this game came out back when I was in middle school, I would have lost my shit.
“Portal Knights” starts off in true RPG fashion—the player gets a choice of generic character classes (fighter, ranger and wizard), along with a better-than-expected character customization tool. The character designs are very similar to those of the Nintendo Mii, which is where the nostalgia factor begins germinating in the nerd forebrain. Creating this adorable little warrior immediately evokes memories of that first digital avatar for the Wii. After the game’s quick tutorial, the player is thrust into a perfectly adorable world filled with Zelda-esque monsters and zillions of crafting options.
Perhaps the most innovative thing about “Portal Knights” is that it plays like a sandbox game that comes included with different levels. Every monster that falls under the player’s blade, bow or staff coughs up shards of Portal Stones that can be used to activate a gateway to another biome. Each biome has a unique set of enemies, resources and secrets that make exploration engaging and rewarding. Certain biomes can also be barren of particular resources, forcing the player to get creative. For example, I found myself needing to build a workbench in the middle of a desert. Since there were no trees for me to chop down, I had to horde logs by killing orc-like creatures until I had my quota. Also, the crafting element of the game fed nicely into the RPG elements, since new weapons and armor could only be equipped once the player found the necessary components and crafted them.
Beautiful graphics and character design aside, the game does have some issues. In both first person and third person modes, the voxel reticle that the player uses to add boxes to the environment is way too sensitive, making it difficult to build uniformly and quickly. Combat also presented some difficulties in that the dodge mechanic worked about twenty-five percent of the time, causing my character to endure all kinds of burns and gashes.
The multi-player aspect of “Portal Knights” opens itself up to some fun possibilities, though. Teaming up with a few buddies to purge an area of enemies, rampantly consume all of the available resources and move to the next level leaves one feeling a bit like Galactus or a flesh-eating virus—but cuter.
All the charm of “Portal Knights” lies in its clever appropriation of N64-era graphics and gameplay. The crafting aspect is just as good as any other voxel-based game out there, and it’s not a bad game by any stretch. With a market that is saturated with multi-player crafting games that are also RPG’s, it just doesn’t have much of a hook to keep players invested. Both RPG’s and crafting games are time consuming, and “Portal Knights” doesn’t offer much more than a bit of gaming nostalgia to its potential audience. Fifteen bucks on Steam isn’t a terrible price for a game that one could theoretically play forever, but it probably won’t be long before players are eventually drawn back into “Minecraft.”