Release Date: T.B.A.
Rarely am I at a complete loss for words, as anyone who knows me will gladly attest. Glib is the order of the day, and yet, I suddenly find myself unable to even create the slightest murmur of comment on NeverEnd, a new entrant in the struggling pure Role Playing Game field.
NeverEnd aims to take a walk in the shoes of such legends as Diablo and Final Fantasy. As one of a fading race of magical beings (the text goes to great pains to avoid using the word "elf," despite her appearance as one), the lead character is a member of a gang — what kind isn't made clear — who've just hit the veritable mother lode of cash. That affluence is short-lived, however: a set of bandits make off with the loot while the rest are sleeping off the party. So our "hero," as much as she is, sets off after the thieves.
As the preview build kicks up, events have led the unnamed not-an-elf-she-swears to a squalid hole in the dirt, fittingly named Mildrew. Things go sideways from there. The town is isolated in the middle of a dense forest, the guides have all gone missing, werewolves are attacking from the outskirts, the mayor has less faith in you than a Sylvester Stallone movie, and frankly, you're not cut out for the job, being as you're a wimpy little level 1 pointy-eared-girlie-thing. There's a lot of ground to cover.
So, now that you're in control of things, you'll happily steer Save The World Woman around the city, poking and prodding at people's lives. The town of Mildrew is one of the more complex places I've ever seen, not because it's large or elaborate — Summoner still wins the medal there — but because dirty villages are dirty villages. There are a few people about, most of whom happily tell you to turn around and return from whence you came. A few are vaguely helpful, and a few others want you to do things for them, all in the name of being a good citizen, of course, and to gain some gold coins and a bit of experience. You'll need tons of it, too.
The combat system is based strongly on Final Fantasy's RealTime Battle System as seen in FF4 (II in the US), where a meter indicates how long someone (or something) must wait before moving. Unlike FF, where a character's speed is the only determining factor, the attack itself also contributes to the "delay." More complicated attacks do more damage or have useful side effects like bleeding wounds or defensive penalties, but they add on to your "delay" and open you up to attacks while waiting. It's an interesting idea, but as implemented, it makes things more complicated than they need to be, and the starting character seems to be unable to defend herself against anything but the simplest enemies.
Also along for the ride is the Rune System, where spells are created by stringing together colored stones to create spells. There are dozens of combinations, not all of which are practical or even useful. Again, spells, like melee attacks, carry their own delays along with bonuses or penalties. Note that there are no "magic points" here: each time you cast the spell, the runes you used are destroyed, making magic a desperate fallback, as opposed to something you can lean on. It's annoying, given that magic spells are so much more useful than your wimpy initial attacks.
As a complete package, NeverEnd keeps bringing one word to mind: generic. It borrows a great many things from other games: the overworld map mode, the inventory selection, the skill system, the combat system, and even more are rehashed from games that implemented them better. The entire thing screams budget title so loudly that if there's much of a quality product here, it's drowned out. Mildrew is a disjointed series of generic village screens, made far more difficult to navigate by links that don't flow into each other.
The dialogue suffers from a case of localization syndrome, riddled with grammatical errors and blinding typos; even when it makes sense, it's very bland and cliché-laden. Quests are entirely undefined and involve wandering about in places that may just let you get slaughtered en masse. (Example: a character you meet who offers to escort you insists you go southwest, and will badger you constantly to keep going the right way. I managed to trip a bit of dialogue where he said he was nearly there...and then threw up his arms, called me an idiot, and walked away. This left me stranded, far from Mildrew, without enough attack strength to get back again. Bad design, kids, bad design!)
That's not getting into the circa-1999 character modeling, poor sound effects, periodic crash-to-desktop issues and baroque menus that are all about style over substance. I hate to be down on a game, especially when it's in an underrepresented genre that's shriveling in the shadows of strategy and FPS titles. If the localization improves, maybe it can become another Septerra Core or Darkstone, games that rose above technical inadequacies to become involved, powerful titles for their time.
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