Have you ever been on a dirt bike? I mean a real, honest-to-goodness two wheeled death trap that was the fleeting hobby of any kid with unpaved roads and sprawling nature (and usually no good television channels). It’s hilariously dumb fun, and you can actually turn pretty professional at it if you keep up. But, when you’re a kid growing up with friends who don’t dirt bike, you find yourself constantly needing to find justification as to why what you’re doing is cool, or why it’s better than playing a sport, or why you don’t think it has anything to do with your parents being cousins. When we’re young, we have trouble just being able to say “It’s fun!” and being done and confident in that answer, which is a damn shame. Who knows, if I hadn’t been too embarrassed to keep riding solo after all my friends declared dirt biking “stupid and boring,” I might have ended up…well, probably in a neck brace, I wasn’t good, but that’s not the point of the story. Sometimes we just like to have fun, and goddammit, Fictorum is fun.
The Fictorum is an all powerful wizard/warrior who exists in a world that both fears and admires him. In the words of the creators, they wanted to skip the origin story that would give reason, clause or justification for the powers and, instead, just make you a “bad ass” right from the get-go. Can’t say that I disagree with the approach, as the establishment is kind of a risky gamble for a new IP. If someone doesn’t take to how the character grows, then you dismiss the game before you start playing. On the other hand, kind of dropping you into an existing conflict with no other background other than “This dude is awesome and everyone either hates or loves him, so get ready for a lot of fights” could heavily put off the sort of player Fictorum may potentially attract. Not gonna lie, I got a “Witcher” vibe immediately, only without any of the massive, expansive world, lore, customization or otherwise. I feel like the Fictorum keeps a photo of The Witcher up in his locker but quickly slams it shut whenever someone from the football team walks by.
Fictorum is currently being pursued by The Inquisition, a collective of knights, mages and aristocrats who want to control the land and generally want the Fictorum to either fall in line or die, and our hero is wanting NONE of that. They tried to execute him and he escaped through…I dunno, a guitar solo, but he got infected by a curse as a result. So now you’re moving across the land so you can go and bring hell-fire onto those who’ve wronged him and who need to get him to obey the curfew and eat his vegetables or whatever. One thing that kind of takes me out of the game is the unrelenting personality inflicted upon the Fictorum of being the baddest dude to walk the land. I mean, it sort of fits in with the game and the elements therein, but I also kept expecting him to either ride a motorcycle between locations or have quippy one liners as he blasts enemies and buildings to smithereens. And the weirdest part is, I got this impression way more from the game’s description and people’s responses to the game rather than how the game presented itself. That’s a beast of a different color entirely.
One quick note is that the story itself is sort of up to you as a player. The way the plot unfolds is through a huge, overhead map that you then decide which way the Fictorum moves, and, as he hits different points, runs into different people and scenarios that call to his Fictorum-ness. You can decide if our heavy metal mage is going to help out a ton of people on the way or simply walk by people begging for his intervention, determined not to be distracted on his quest for wanton destruction.
Alright, where to begin? Fictorum highly recommends you do their tutorial before you begin playing, and I do agree that it’s important to learn how to run around, shape spells and generally get a feel for what your objectives are going to be. The only problem is, in an effort to be exceptionally metal, all the on-screen tutorial words are written in flame that are hard to read when you’re at the right angle and completely impossible when you come in from anything but dead on. If the development team is reading this, please, PLEASE just make it floating text. I wanna feel like a Godslayer, not a 49 year old accountant who just realized he needs bifocals because I can’t read my fire message on how to be awesome.
Once you get through the tutorial (or skip it, whatever, I’m not your mother) you have the option to customize your Fictorum however you’d like him to look, within reason, and you also can adjust the difficulty level. An important note is that there is a mode easier than easy called Reese Mode. I have no idea what this is in relation to, but choosing this mode means you have to wear a helmet for the remainder of the game that does reduce the damage you take but also makes you look wonky. It also imprints itself on the other two save files if you have a Reese Mode game in the first slot, so, despite being on harder difficulties, I was still saddled with the helmet. I finally got it removed by restarting the first slot, but I apologize that most of the screen shots have the helmet on. I didn’t want to delete and re-download the whole game because Fictorum comes in at just over ten gigs and holy Christ my IP already throttles me on the weekend because DSL is somehow still a commodity in my neck of the woods.
The aforementioned map shows you different spots that you can move towards, with random events and exposition that will crop up as you land in different places. Sometimes you get quests that get performed right then and there, sometimes you need to hold onto an idea or target until you get to the next area. Usually quests will have bars on the right that showcase what you need to kill/destroy/find/rescue, but there are a couple of quests that just leave it up to you. I started one quest where I was to “take a stand” in a legendary fight, but no bars showed up to measure my progress, so I just ran like a coward and left through the waypoint. I didn’t get any big prizes, but I lived, which is an even better reward. Thanks, mortality!
The biggest appeal and the largest part of this game is the straight up combat and madness of interacting in the quests. Fictorum has a variety of spells to choose from at the start and you will find others along the way that you simply slot to use. No studying, no being adept in a particular sphere or whatever, you just grab a spell and you know it, so let’s bring the thunder, sometimes literally. Each spell has its own range, side effects and amount of mana needed to cast, and you really can’t just fire from the hip, because you’ll straight up miss most of the time. Holding a spell in too long damages you physically, so players need to figure out a good balance between calibrating a spell, determining the velocity and damage (actually stuff you can do) and releasing at just the right moment. This worked out well with weaker spells that gave more of a grace period during the charge, but strong magic tended to start punishing you immediately, so I panic and fire lightning bolts into houses I should be protecting and dammit I lost the quest.
The enemy AI, for the most part, is simplistically dumb, but what else do you expect when you’re the Lord of Magic? Muggle grunts swing swords and shoot arrows and tend to be pretty flammable, so they’re only dangerous in large hordes. Spell casters are pretty spry on their feet and can get off most spells with uncanny accuracy, but they usually only cast the same type of spell over and over. Not to mention most of them throw projectile spells which, if you’ve got enough stamina to run, you can sidestep the average spell without much incident. Oh and, also, you’re the goddamn Fictorum, so a single fireball isn’t going to do you in, which is more than I can say for this fistful of Slytherin dropouts that apparently signed up to work for the Inquisition in lieu of getting a real job. But they don’t exist to have a complex backstory that you’re able to psychically tap into so that you find out about the human elements of war and how, in the eyes of your fellow man, even the noblest hero is actually a monster. Naw, they’re meat frames stuck in a physics engine, and you’re the variable that’s going to find out how far a body flies when you hit it with high voltage close to the edge of a cliff.
Fictorum also boasts completely destructible landscapes and buildings, which Scraping Bottom Games promised and delivered upon with their initial Kickstarter campaign. In fact, the ability to blow up houses and trees is touted in their press release even before the ability to cast spells, which is all the Fictorum does. The destruction is clearly the part of the game that delivers both the most fun and most frustration. Not only do you need to blow up certain towers and buildings before you can unlock the portal that lets you leave each stage, you also need to remember that every single shanty you come across can be taken down by magic, enough projectiles, or someone with a bad case of the sneezes. It can be super frustrating, because the dressers and shelves of houses are where all the powerups and health potions are hidden and, guess what, our Fictorum decided that dual classing as a cleric or healer wasn’t worth the EXP hit, so he can’t heal himself when out on the prowl, leaving you to slowly hemorrhage health until you raid a house or find a traveling caravan with overpriced poultices and gear. And you know what really throws off your healing session? When some bastard with a frost spell destroys the load bearing beams of the house you’re in and the bed on the 2nd floor lands on your damn head. But that’s hardly a one way street. I love blowing a hole in the wall of the upper level, jumping out and then bringing down a tavern on top of the eight mindless ghouls who ran in to kill me. I one took a chunk out of a tower with a lightning bolt, it hurdled about ten feet through the air and landed on some kind of mutant zombie. I would have paid for a game that just did that all day, and the Fictorum did it for free.
Of course, this kind of mechanic does carry with it some bugs, but, I gotta say, the team has been working overtime to patch and update the game pretty quickly. I was going to pan Fictorum for it’s shoddy play and impossible difficulty curve, but they introduced a new ability just last week, Clairvoyance, which lets you magically see where everything is on the map for just a moment. The AI always seemed to know exactly where I was, so it was pretty chill for the Supreme Mugwump to be able to spend a modicum of mana to know where the hordes approaching were and which way to run to the portal. Not to mention the patch did make the game more stable and run smoother, which totally took the sails out of my hyper critical nature. Instead of bemoaning a game that was choppy and mostly unplayable, I just have to deal with the fact that it’s somewhere between an overly dramatic dungeon master trying to play things up for an overpowered party and if Johnny Knoxville got a hold of a grimoire and used it to launch Wee Man into the stratosphere.
You’re not going to be writing letters and papers in the future about the gorgeous designs of Fictorum, at least not at the current time. I didn’t have a problem with the graphics, but I also had to scale things down to the lowest denominator in order to accommodate my base rig. So it kind of looked like someone had tried to skin the original Hexen onto the original Witcher and ran the whole thing through my original 486. It didn’t look great, but I could still admire the explosions coming from some pretty pixelated dudes. Upping the settings gave me more finesse and detail, but it came at the game having to pause and think every time more enemies would appear on my screen, which is not good, because their AI actions didn’t pause as well. Ever have a magician start to cast a ball of frost and then suddenly you’re stuck to the ground while someone whacks at you with a broadsword? If so, that’s exactly what happens when you demand high graphics with a 750Ti and a last generation i3. I’ve seen people complaining that it doesn’t look great even at the highest settings with the strongest machine, and I don’t know what to tell them. You’re right? Maybe? Let’s be real, not everyone is equipped for war on their machine, most barely have better than what Best Buy pre-assembled for them prior to putting the whole rig on clearance for half the original price.
I actually really like the map approach to presenting how the story unfolded. It’s clear that Fictorum wouldn’t work as a fully open world setting (I’d just spend days lightning trees on fire), so segmenting it through a massive war map, complete with storytelling to explain what’s happening next, makes the whole sequence work surprisingly well. It was a smart move, and it looks good, like someone moving pewter figures across a Risk map. The spells also look great, and I love the way they expand and react dynamically to whatever they’re being cast at, though, to be fair, the common reaction is “burned, shocked or otherwise dead.” There isn’t realistic scorch marks on the cobblestone of the building I just razed, but those pieces will be flying into the ocean any moment now, I don’t care what they look like in the meantime.
I did, however, take umbrage with how poorly the AI looked when they got up in my face when I’m stuck in the same building as them. Entering a building takes you from 3rd person to first, and your view point changes dramatically, especially coming face to face with the angry magic users and even angrier mutant marauders. I hope Scraping Bottom can take a moment and polish the visages of my foes, because having a horrifying demon chase you into the house and then suddenly turn into a static grimace on an ugly rag doll kind of threw me off a bit. To be fair, this game is definitely intended for a better system, so I guess I should also apologize for not having a stronger card ready. Only three months till Black Friday, I can make it.
I can’t say that I’ll be listening to the Fictorum soundtrack as a standalone driving mix, but I will say there is plenty to enjoy about it whilst in the game. For one, there’s a good array of sound effects for the various types of magical explosions and general mayhem that you can reign down on your quest for vengeance. The crumbling of buildings is just right, but the sound doesn’t change whether it’s struck by lightning or caught in a frosty maelstrom. But there is plenty of distinction, for example, of when the flames blossom forward and engulf your target, or when the creeping chill slows down an incoming mob long enough for you to get the high ground and dispense additional Fictorum justice.
Musically, it’s right in the vein of a sword and sorcery style game, with a lot of dramatic strings and some light woodwind to create the ominous tone of a wizard with a grudge. I don’t know if this comes across as high praise, but I was often reminded of how things sounded in the classic animation Gargoyles, and I loved Gargoyles. It was a time of darkness. It was a world of fear. It was the age of Fictorum. Yea, that sounds awesome.
I won’t pretend Fictorum is a perfect game. There’s serious issue with how the engine chugs on most machines and, from what I can see, even the highest level of graphics are still sub par considering the requirements needed to achieve that status. This isn’t an epic tale of revenge and redemption, so much as it’s a power crazed wizard destroying anyone and everything in his path with a combination of magic and questionable judgment from AI characters standing in really precarious areas. If you’re not into doing sidequests, then you end up finishing the game fairly quickly, and there is nothing more annoying than trying to loot a house and having some asshole blow it up with you inside.
I have to give it up for the developers for being super active and interested in this passion project. I really admire what they’re trying to do, and, in all honestly, it’s silly fun to figure out how you best work as a destructomage. The chances of getting sweet loot is equivalent to any other hack n slash game, and it has the same thrill, you just feel a little strange finding it in a bedside stand as opposed to a chest deep underground. I felt like a boss with lightning strikes, and I was never so overpowered that it became boring and repetitive. When the Inquisition catches up to you and you need to fight or flee, you really shouldn’t fight unless you are insane, and sometimes the crazy works well in your favor, and it can be truly satisfying to fight, flee and strategically pick off an army that was sent to capture one wizard. I do wish the game bore some kind of label that let people know “Yea, it’s not Early Access, but there’ll be more patches along the way to make this more balanced and enjoyable.” I can’t fault the devs for wanting to get this out to the world because, from what I can tell, they really love it and they think other people will too. If you are at all interested in being a hyper strength archmage that still has some room for humility, I think you can safely don the heavy cloak that can only be worn by…the Fictorum.