Dear Mr Silverfall Designer,
Please, when developing your next game try to remember this simple yet important tip. Point and click combat is fine, point and click movement less so but workable, combine the two however and you have a fundamentally clumsy mess of a control scheme to base a game on.
It feels a little unfair to start this review with a moan because there's actually a lot that's enjoyable about Silverfall, however there is also an influential chunk that's a nightmare. So glaring are its problems that they should have been sorted way before the game hit the shelves, which to an extent justifies my starting this review with such a direct moan. Let's back up a little here though before we get into too much detail, Silverfall is a hack and slash top down RPG that fans of games like Diablo, and Titan Quest will have been eagerly watching out for. Set in the fantasy land of Nelwe, a world where the advances in science and technology have created a split amongst the population with some of the populace turning their back on such things and getting firmly back to nature. This ideological divide promises to allow players to align with either faction as the game progresses depending on which quests they choose to complete as they progress through the game's central story which concerns itself with an evil bid to rule the world. Aligning more strongly with the followers of technology holds the promise of more powerful weaponry where as the path of nature offers more eco-friendly rewards like the ability to turn into other creatures.
Unfortunately, that promising setup is undermined almost from the word go. Starting at the beginning, the character generation, especially for an RPG, is as lean as they come. Pick from one of four races (human, elf, troll or goblin), pick a sex, then pick your physical characteristics from a seriously limited selection none of which create a very appealing virtual you, basically it's not something you'll be spending much time tinkering with. Once that's sorted the game itself kicks off with your home city, the titular Silverfall, under invasion from some rather nasty evil creatures. At this point the tutorial kicks in and sees you tasked with finding and defeating the leader of said invasion. However, rather than have you control your newly created character the game lets them escape into the marshes with the rest of the city and instead puts you in the shoes of the city's Archmage giving you access to his full range of funky powers with which to dispel the invading hordes. To give the developers Monte Cristo credit it's a plan that makes perfect sense from the point of view of the story, after all your shiny new under strength character couldn't conceivably see off any kind of credible invasion on his or her own and this is supposed to be a tutorial quest so it shouldn't be particularly hard. However, the flip side of that is that having spent some time laying waste to invaders with a full arsenal of powers it's a bit galling to be thrown back into your own newly created shoes suddenly unable to fight off a baby rabbit without a lengthy battle. It just feels a bit underwhelming after the fun you'd been having with the Archmage and makes you wonder if the story of the invasion could have been told another way leaving the tutorial quest to occur afterwards, in-character. The feeling of being suddenly underpowered isn't helped by the fact that the learning curve once you start the game proper is steep to say the least. It may just be me but I died an awful lot simply trying to clear the enemies around camp as part of an initial quest, leading to much wandering around semi naked (in game nudity you understand, I did manage to remain fully clothed while playing you'll be pleased to know) looking for my dropped clothes and weapons. Even more frustrating was once I'd found them, trying to pick them up again and escape without being killed by the various monsters that minutes ago had put me in that very situation in the first place.
The other big problem that becomes apparent early on is the control issues I mentioned at the start of the review. You control your character via the mouse, using a point and click method to move around while the camera can be controlled by either pushing the mouse to the sides of the screen or using the arrow keys. It's a system that works fine, although as ever point and click movement in a 3D world leads to the inevitable, albeit occasional, path finding issues. The real problems arise when you factor in that to attack an enemy you, yep you guessed it, point and click on them, meaning that in the heat of battle a misplaced click will send your plucky character happily wandering into the midst of the enemy horde rather than keeping his distance and lobbing fireballs at them as you intended. It's not even like enemies have the good grace to simply stand still while you attack them, meaning a left click that resulted in a deadly sweep of your blade a split second ago next time results in you walking casually into the path of the swirling axe of doom. You do of course use the right mouse button for combat as well and can also map some attacks to the keyboard which cuts down on the problem a bit but manually changing the controls to one's far less intuitive feels a lot like working round the game's design flaws which is really something that should have been done before you paid for it. Frustratingly it's a problem that Monte Cristo clearly recognised at some point in development, one section in the tutorial actually includes the warning 'click carefully to avoid accidental movement' or words to that effect. Perhaps next time guys, when you find yourself having to include warnings like that in the game, you should take that as a hint and rethink the controls a little, its not like PC gamers have a problem with controlling characters using the arrow keys therefore leaving the mouse free for combat - 8.5 million WoW subscribers manage...
However, get yourself past the initial feeling of frustrating weakness and decide to make the best of the dodgy control scheme and there is fun to be had in the world of Silverfall for those willing to put the time in. As is becoming genre-standard the game structure is fairly open-ended with numerous quests available most of the time, some of which advance the main plot others of which can be completed for the sheer fun of it or more probably to help level your character up that bit faster. With no distinct class system in evidence, Silverfall instead relies on a well thought out skill tree system to give your character depth with sections for combat and magic as well as a third for things like your race specific skills as well as the technology and nature ones. There is also a party system available with new members able to be recruited at certain points in the story or upon completion of certain quests. These new allies remain AI controlled throughout although you are able to give them basic instructions on how to react in combat which works well enough to give a sense of 'team'.
The world of Nelwe and everything in it is rendered in a kind of faux comic book style with characters surrounded by a thick black line making them appear almost cell-shaded at times. It's an interesting effect and while often unnoticed when the camera is zoomed out can look quite striking when you get in close. The fully 3D world also includes a decent physics engine which makes things feel that much more real. The technology versus nature world-in-peril storyline is pretty enjoyable while never really living up to the promise offered by the relatively highbrow concept and as with so many games, the dialogue that pushes it forward is very poor in a lot of places however some of the blame for that may lay at the feet of the translation from the original French rather than in the original script.
If feels like I've focused a lot on a couple of negative points which, as I said, is perhaps unfair on the good parts of Silverfall. However, by making the start of the game so poorly balanced and infusing the whole experience with the control scheme from hell, Monte Cristo ensured that it took a certain amount of will power to play through far enough to get to the good bits which surely isn't good enough. Silverfall isn't far off being a really good game; it's just unfortunate that the bits it gets wrong cast a shadow over the whole experience. Anyone happy to live with its idiosyncrasies will probably get a lot of enjoyment out of Silverfall, for the rest of us it sits firmly on the ever growing pile of disappointingly missed opportunities.