Lichdom: Battlemage Review
I was at PAX East when I first stumbled upon Lichdom: Battlemage. The game's developer, Xaviant, placed a huge screen up in the rafters up above their booth that was playing a trailer. Anyone that could see the screen from 100 feet away would be drawn in like a moth to a bug zapper. The developer's concept was simple: great graphics, aggressive enemies, a powerful mage, and no limiting resources. Even before I could touch a mouse and keyboard, Xaviant had won me over. Sadly, I was unable to get to play the demo but I was successful in peeking my head over other gamers' shoulders to get a little more in-depth look. Even on a smaller scale the gameplay was identical to the trailer playing above me. The folks that were playing were throwing fireballs, using ice bolts to freeze enemies in their tracks, and creating total destruction in front of them. Lichdom appeared to be an adventure RPG mixed with FPS run and gun characteristics ... and I liked it!
Fast forward a few months after PAX East, and now the game has been finally released into the wild. The plot is all about revenge - for starters your spouse has been killed by Rogiro and the world overrun by The Cult of Malthus. Time passes and a powerful mage called Roth appears and provides you with bracers that wield the power of magic. Roth has recruited you as a "Dragon" and has tasked you to seek revenge not only for yourself but for a world that has been taken over by The Cult. Roth tells you that the path ahead will not be easy and many Dragons have been on this trek before you.
Suited with your new powers and purpose in life, Roth provides a very quick tutorial on how to use your abilities. In the beginning you only have a couple of abilities, fire and ice. Fire is your primary damage power and ice is more suited to crowd control and damage mitigation. Outside of fire and ice are six additional sigils that you can obtain and tune to your style or enemy situation. These sigils are comprised of mastery, destruction, and control spells. Mastery revolves around debuffing enemies, destruction is clearly damage, and control is for managing enemies and damage mitigation. Become well-versed in balancing each category of spells and your experience will not be as challenging as most people think.
It is obvious that the developer thought long and hard on how to maximize all of the spells with minimum amount of buttons used. Spells are used with left and right click buttons, and utilization of the scroll wheel allows you to switch between sigils. Clicking both mouse buttons triggers area of effect attacks, however they must be charged up completely before the spell can be used. As mentioned before the trick is to have a balance of spells to knock out enemy shields, freeze enemies in place, cause damage over time, create an area of damage, or to purely damage a target. Enemies can be very aggressive and in your face so quick thinking and spell management is the key to your success, and to generating the least amount of frustration. The best part: no limiting resource such as a mana pool. You have unlimited uses of all spells in your arsenal so go forth and pew pew!
The biggest gripe I have is with the way the game handles the management and crafting of spells. As you kill certain enemies they will drop more spells and modifications for spells. The process of crafting sounds simple when given a quick two second tutorial, consisting of using a base spell and adding others to it, but it is way more difficult than that. When you start to combine spells all kinds of various stats are changed and the type of spell you end up with can be completely different than what you started with. To me there is too much clutter and noise when crafting -1+1 should equal 2, but this method makes it feel like 1+1 equals 5. Either with some research, trial and error, or by pure luck you will eventually master the craft. The other downside is once you find your comfort zone you will almost abandon or neglect all other spells and even stop crafting altogether.
The best thing I think Xaviant has to show in the game is the level of detail, not only with spells and crafting but with the enemies and environment. When using CryEngine 3 as your development backend some may automatically assume that you game will simply look great, but these guys have put a lot of thought and detail into each graphical element. The spell effects are the best I have ever seen and enemies and bosses are downright nasty looking with their own share of special effects. Of course we all know graphics don't make a game, but they sure do add a great deal of enjoyment when blasting baddies with fire, ice, lighting, and parasites.
I think back at how I marveled at Lichdom while at PAX and what the game has become. Lichdom delivered exactly what they had advertised: becoming an independent, hardcore mage out for revenge. One thing that I didn't expect was the depth of all the spells and crafting, which ultimately became overwhelming for me. Another aspect was the level of difficulty that sometimes brought the progress of the game to a standstill. I wouldn't compare it to a Dark Souls level of difficulty, but there are certain enemy surprises, vulnerabilities, and a sheer volume of enemies that make certain scenarios feel intense, impossible, and frustrating. Your level of tolerance for these things will determine how far you take yourself through Lichdom.
Final Rating: 78%. A fireball on the verge of a meltdown.