Genre: Action RPG
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Developer: Bandai Namco
Release Date: September 26, 2006
Magic. Swords. Elves. Dwarves. Dragons. How is it even possible anymore to take these elements and make an interesting new game? Well one way is to simply buy up the rights to an established franchise and make a digital version. This is what Namco-Bandai chose to do in developing MageKnight Apocalypse. They bought the story and world off of WizKids, the company that makes the original MageKnight, a collectable miniature table-top game that is somewhat similar to Warhammer Fantasy, except the painting on the figures is done for you. All Namco-Bandai had to do is create a great piece of next-generation entertainment to go with their great franchise. Did they succeed? Not so much. Not for the PC version, at least.
MageKnight Apocalypse is a 3rd person perspective action-role playing game set in a mythical kingdom with no name that I’m aware of. At this point I should admit, somewhat shamefully, that I’ve never played the tabletop version of this game and thus have no real clue as to its background mythology. As an “oathsworn” servant of a being known as Sythvalus, you play one of five different character archetypes. Kithana, the vampiress assassin, Sarus the lizardman mage, Tal Windstrider, the noble paladin, Chela, the Amazonian warrior queen, or Janos Freeborn, the steam-punk dwarf with a penchant for guns. These heroes ultimately will all fall under your control, as you collect their services throughout the game.
At this point things already begin to turn sour. I wish I could focus more on the positive aspects of MageKnight Apocalypse; however there is such an ocean of flaws that anything good is eclipsed by the negative. You have five classes to choose from, that’s fine. Somewhat limited, but we can deal with that. However, the names are locked in place. Your heroes are static, it’s not “your” avatar- it’s a character chosen from a list. You do get to customize your appearance somewhat (hair style and colour, face, skin colour, eye colour, five options for each of these), but ultimately your sense of connection is blocked from the beginning of the game.
Once past this, you then have to deal with the ocular punishment served up by the graphics. What a list of shame; the models are blocky and unrealistic, the polygons bleed into each other constantly, collision is inaccurate (weapons often float away from the hands that wield them, seemingly glued to the fingertips), and the bloom lighting is so blurry and Vaseline-on-the-lens that it looks as if you’re watching a daytime soap-opera love scene. Soft focus was never meant to be abused in such a manner. I will give credit where it’s due; the texture details are fantastic. Of course, you need to zoom your point of view in extremely close to see any of it, as these details don’t scale very effectively.
After you get past the graphics, you then get to contend with the control scheme. MageKnight Apocalypse feels very much like it was designed for an analogue control setup, leading me to wonder if perhaps the original plan wasn’t to have this game released on console platforms as well as PC. Use of W-A-S-D does an adequate job of covering movement; however the constant battle with the camera point of view adds further frustration to an already colicky title. I suppose it might sound bitter of me to mention that the excessively linear levels half-negate the need to adjust your camera anyways. I cannot remember a time I’ve ever seen such train-track restrictions on exploration. Even Fable gave you more room to bail around in.
MageKnight Apocalypse has a curious habit of lagging in single player mode. In this case, I don’t mean frame-rate lag either, I mean the same kind of lag you see popping up in online games. For example, you’ll be in the middle of a fight, and your screen will freeze for say, four or five seconds. Once things finally snap back in, you find yourself near-death because the AI didn’t suffer any such lag and continued to beat on you while your screen was frozen. Similar to this is the common issue of your avatar just not responding to commands. Even something as simple as swinging your sword at a wooden barrier can result in much futzing as you repeatedly click your mouse trying to elicit an action of some form.
One of the most annoying flaws in MageKnight Apocalypse is the inventory system. Stackable items such as potions or herbs don’t auto-stack, which means that if you loot 10 health potions, you now have 10 filled slots in your backpack until you manually go in and stack them all into one. I found myself rapidly growing weary of the amount of inventory micro-management I was forced to go through.
I can go on and on, the dirty laundry list seems nigh-unending. Am I kicking this game while it’s down? Multiplayer is a barren wasteland, and I never once could actually connect to a server, even when I could find one that had someone in it. There are class balance issues; the lizard does obscene damage from a distance and clears out groups of enemies with ease, but the vampiress has to run up and scrap mobs hand-to-hand, and thus gets beaten down all too easily by gang-tactics. The AI scripting is terrible, it displays no sense of tactics and more often than not all you need to do is alert the bad guys to your presence and then run behind something. Even a simple box will confuse the enemy so badly they’ll just stand there and wait for you to end their stupefied existence. If you can manage it through the lag, that is.
It seems clear that MageKnight Apocalypse wanted very badly to be another Guild Wars or Diablo 2 style action title. It failed. The few things the game does well (voice acting, the potion-brewing system, the item imbuing system) just cannot possibly hope to save what is, at best, a beta-release bundle of sloppy code. There isn’t even an interesting or engaging narrative to draw the player in, instead you get to chew on a bland and generic “fantasy” story drawn straight from a genre that is so far past its due date that only the very best of the best can make any kind of impression. This is clearly not the best of the best. It’s not even the best of the worst. Your money is better spent elsewhere.
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