Legends of Aethereus is a behind-the-player-character, action role playing game set in the land of Aethereus. Do quests handed out in the hub city. Marvel at the gorgeous art design, then feel dissappointed at the lack of opportunities for interaction. Buy and sell crafting material and weapons and armour at traders. Or craft weapons and armour at the blacksmith (crafting material can also be collected during quests). Play one of two classes - one focused on brute strength and the other one deploying devices (e.g. mines, turrets, etc.). Develop special moves (called a skill tree in-game, but it really isn't). Use a complicated but accessible combat system in satisfying combat against (admittedly cookie-cutter) foes. Play with up to three friends. Enter your character(s) in the arena to earn more gold and materials. Outfit your apartment (a feature that isn't fully developed at the moment). Generally have fun (yes!). Be amazed at the game's potential. Then visit the forums (or do that before buying) and lament the lack of updates.
Yes, Legends of Aethereus has been responsible for its fair share of controversy amongst RPG fans.
My first impressions were very favourable. Following about twenty hours of play I drew up a long list of suggestions for improving LoA, but then decided to wait for a (claimed to be coming soon by the developers) mega update before posting it. Now it's been a year and we've heard nothing from the developers aside from their asking for participants in a secret testing programme.
To dispell a common myth, this game was never in Early Access. In other words, Legends of Aethereus was sold as a complete product. Heck, there's even a deluxe boxed version (containing two keys); nothing on the box says anything about the game being unfinished or undercooked (unlike for example the boxed version of another RPG, Krater, which makes it clear that the game has missing features, to be patched in at a later date).
There is an ending - meaning you can play through the story from start to finish. Many of the technical issues relate to the game running on Unity (notoriously buggy and resource hungry), and that's unfortunate, but it's also too late (obviously) to move the thing to a different engine.
The many problems include:
- quest objects spawning inside environmental objects (i.e. scenery)
- it being massively difficult to hit enemies when fighting on a sloped environment (i.e. you and enemies being on different elevations)
- enemies floating above the ground or being too short (meaning your sword doesn't automatically hit them unless you use a specific move)
- the hub city looking great but being largely non-interactive
- the useless player apartment feature
- the skill tree not being a real skill tree at all, but rather a list of special moves which consume resources that need to be collected in the world
- technical issues like long loading times, random drops in frame rate and the game generally being a bit choppy
The quest environments feel a bit empty but they are gorgeous to look at. You never collect gear, as in other RPGs. Instead the game has you collecting the resources with which to craft gear. These resources are dropped by enemies or collected from treasure chests. These rarely tend to be hidden and thus the game doesn't really give you any reason to explore. Even if you do explore, beyond admiring the scenery there really isn't much to find or do outside of following the list of simple commands constituting your quest -- almost always a case of following a linear path until you get to a location where you either have to pick up a quest item or kill a certain character (or monster). This aspect of the game feels "cookie cutter", to use a cliche, and many others have remarked on it also.
Playing the game you'll be exposed to copious amounts of text, likely enough to constitute a fairly thick fantasy novel. But for all that lore most of it reads like gibberish, or, in my opinion, isn't contextualised or interesting enough to lift the narrative beyond the uninteresting quest structure, which really mires it down and made me skip through most of it.
The problem of uninteresting environments extends to the main hub city. There are many locations within the city which were clearly meant to be built upon, but since the game has for all practical reasons been abandoned never will be.
Having said that, the hub city is the location of a cute little meta-game where you use the resources you would normally use for crafting weapons and armour to craft statues of yourself (or enemies), which you can place throughout the city. Just imagine inviting your friends over to your game and showing off your many heroic poses cast in shiny platinum.
I've mentioned that there are currently two classes, namely Officer and Inventor. The former is more focused on brute strength and the latter on deploying gadgets. Both classes use exactly the same weapons and armour. The differences come down to the available skills (or special moves), which consume their own resources and will thus likely not be used very often.
A developer posted that they were going to add a mage questline (you'll notice the mage guild location cannot currently be accessed), which would among other things allow you to play as a magic user. Unfortunately, as we now know, that update never came (and probably never will). Even more unfortunately, the developers have since LoA's release been working on a series of simplistic mobile games for phones and tablets. That's a real shame, considering the obvious talent employed there.
Perhaps you have been left thinking: "With all that I've just read, how can this review be marked as RECOMMENDING the game?"
It's simple -- Legends of Aethereus is one of the most addictive RPGs I've played in years. It is absolutely a slimmed down, cut-the-fat sort of role playing game. You get in, sign up for a quest, travel to the quest location, kill some enemies, get some loot (i.e. this game's version of loot which is resources for crafting), go back, turn in the quest, craft some new gear, rinse and repeat. The combat is for the most part satisfying. The environments look great. Each and every mission can be replayed as many times as you like, and at any of three difficulty levels. (The game notes which missions you've completed and at which difficulty level.)
There is little depth to the experience. There is also little pretention. The game knows what it is. There is an effort to pad out proceedings with a grand narrative, but as it's almost all in the form of walls of text, it is easily ignored.
Legends of Aethereus is all just as you see it. Right there. Right now. You can boot it up, play for as long as you like, quit the game, it'll save your progress. And later you can come back for more. That is rare, people.
In a market where almost every PC RPG tries to be like another PC RPG, only outdoing it in the size and grandeur of its cinematics, here you have something that is truly refreshing, hugely playable, and although lacking in content and polish, a game that offers escapism in spades. Escapism being, I believe, one of the main reasons why we play games in the first place.
Some may disagree, some may agree, please feel free to leave a comment. And if one of the developers read this, please do the same. I'd love to hear from you guys.
The manual can be downloaded at the following link. Please do so if you havn't already. This review is for all intents and purposes an opinion piece. The manual will give you more information on the actual systems and the two classes currently available.http://cdn.akamai.steamstatic.com/steam/apps/248410/manuals/LoA_PlayerGuide.pdf?t=1390752252
PS. Change the camera to Middle; I found the game almost unplayable with the Left and Right camera settings.