As this review was reasonably current at the time it assumes you know one major thing new to this game in the franchise: you cannot die. Should you fall or lose a combat, your companion Elika will save you. In combat this resets the health of the enemy.
I thought this would be a platformer, but it plays more like an extended quick-time event. I didn't find it took much platforming skill (I'd know if it did, I suck at them) so it was actually rather interesting stringing all those moves together. Not entirely satisfying, just more interesting.
The music seemed sparse. I see that there appears to be quite a bit of it, but it sure didn't seem that way and there was a lot of silence. I don't think it made full use of its score. I found sound balance to be an issue in general, with far too many things drowning out dialogue and even towards the end of the game I was fiddling with volume levels.
The death mechanic worked. Mostly. Where it didn't work was in allowing me to keep light seeds I gathered when I died, removing all punishment from death and making it easier than quick loading would. All in all it kept the flow of the game, which was broken less by death and more by the odd decision to have the prince pause to catch Elika on the ivy.
The majority of the game was collecting light seeds. If you only collected the precise number to open the pads you were missing a large chunk of the game. This is why it was such a kicker that there is absolutely zero reward for collecting all of them, beyond a sense of a achievement. Hunting them down was actually oddly satisfying, especially the odd tricky one which got you to think for a bit, but couldn't we get so much as a line of dialogue as a pat on the back for 100%? Considering how vital they were supposed to be to Elika this struck me as another failure in the world building.
On that front though, the view was gorgeous. Being able to stand in one land and see all the nearby lands was absolutely outstanding. The immense scale of some of it, seeing the restored clashing with the corruption; made for one hell of a sight.
The fighting system was a bit pants to be honest. You have a huge number of combos, but they're almost entirely irrelevant. You either fight an enemy with their back to the edge (push them to their death) or you fight them with your back to the edge (they can't be pushed off you need room for a combo). In the latter case you memorise the longest combo possible and then unleash it, I think mine was Elika - Elika - Gauntlet - Elika - Sword - Elika - Jump - Elika - Sword. I suspect you could go longer but since I almost never had enough space to unleash the full combo it didn't seem worth my time to find out.
The real problem is that you don't seem to have any real options in combat. The quick-time events often don't punish you for failing them and don't always reward you for passing them leaving you with the question of what they were for. Sometimes I'd deliberately let the enemy hit me just to get them out of the near invincible "Smack you back and Elika down" mode so I could fire off my combo again. For a game which was all about flow in the platforming there was none of this in the combat. And yes, Elika was painfully fussy about distance.
My next biggest complaint is the open world. I like that I could do things in the order I want, but the sacrifice was too great. The story is not the saving the world story it first appears to be but rather it's about two characters with one goal but completely different motivations. One is led by her faith in her god and redemption for the acts of her father, while the other is being strung along by his ♥♥♥♥ at first and then more emotionally intimate feelings later on. The problem is that this requires character development, development which the open world precludes from happening (along with any semblance of a difficulty curve) because every zone can be done at any time and so the dialogue maintains a pretty consistent tone throughout, you never feel that the relationship moves anywhere beyond the initial leap from chasing the girl to saving your first land. This was such an integral part of the game I can't believe it wasn't handled better, the chats upon cleansing a zone should have either been unrelated to the zone, or formed of two parts, one for the zone/opponent and one for the stage of the relationship you have reached so that you see a natural development across the course of the game.
The writing doesn't help, the characters are far too modern in the way they speak to each other, both in their choice of words and in their voicing. Maybe modern isn't the word, but it really felt off for the entire game. The writing problem extends to the enemies as well.
The characters talk about the Concubine for example driving a wedge between them, yet I didn't feel that at all. The best moment was with the Warrior where both characters interpret the events according to their biases and the writer never spells out which is correct.
This is a shame because the ending is so good, so very very good
, that I wish there'd been a better build up. The characters are key to your enjoyment of the game and a better writer, or just better development spread over the course of the game, would have pushed this from good fun on a budget into superb territory.
Overall, it wasn't a hugely challenging game and it certainly had its problems, but nor does it overstay its welcome and it's one of a growing number of "buddy adventure" games and that always wins a game points with me. I wouldn't have thought it worthwhile at full price, but in a sale it's worth checking out just to experience the journey if not the tightest mechanics ever seen in gaming. You will also get one of the best endings gaming has to offer.