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RPG Codex Preview: Lords of Xulima
Review - posted by Crooked Bee on Tue 12 August 2014, 23:27:12Tags: Lords of Xulima; Numantian Games
The RPG Remix
Crooked Bee: So, Lords of Xulima got released on Steam Early Access last week, and both of us have been playing the game for a couple of weeks already. To start off our chat, what do you think of the entire concept of an isometric RPG (that might have you thinking it’s something akin to an Ultima or a Baldur’s Gate) that turns out to be a Wizardry-like "blobber" instead when it comes to actual gameplay?
Felipepepe: It’s an unusual approach, to say the least. If you look at the Gold Box games, having exploration in first-person makes every step exciting, since you never know what lies ahead of you and it’s easy to get lost. On the other hand, the isometric combat allows for an extra layer of tactics, since you have to mind your positioning as well. However, Lords of Xulima does the exact opposite. It messes with your expectations.
CB: I’ve got to say that, while I fully understood what the combat would be like from the pre-release info, screenshots, etc., the game did have me fooled a bit by the isometric presentation. I guess I was expecting a cross between Wizardry and those “classic” isometric RPGs, but then I got to the first town and it just felt so basic: can’t enter any of the buildings, can’t really have any extensive conversations with anyone, etc. I guess isometric perspective leads you to expect a certain kind of gameplay, and the game defies that expectation. Which is not a bad thing – it’s interesting to see an isometric game follow more of an “open-world Wizardry” formula. It is essentially a problem of presentation more than anything.
F: Yeah, I’m going to make a disclaimer here: I was a backer of Xulima on Kickstarter and was really excited for the game. But even so, I must say that my first 20 minutes with the game were absolutely disappointing. Xulima’s presentation is bad, there’s no way around it.
CB: Let me guess – you were put off by the first town’s content, too.
F: Honestly, I was upset even earlier. At the very beginning you must follow one of those damn "wiggly linear paths" towards the town, occasionally collecting herbs along the way with a visual feedback similar to harvesting stuff in Facebook games. Next you find a group of goblins standing in the middle of the path, and approaching it you begin an encounter. First-person turn-based combat follows, in which your low-level party just attacks everything; nothing exciting here. As soon as the battle is over, you’re greeted with large XP and Gold icons that, again, look just like every Facebook game ever. Then you head into the first town where one NPC is a quest giver who tells you all the job postings, the first of which involves killing rats in a cave.
CB: I have to admit I actually laughed when I discovered that the only meaningful NPC in the town, the one to tell you about your task and give you a few important main quest pointers, also doubles as a job board. It’s basically at this point that I realized the game was a Wizardry-like at heart, and the town could as well have been presented as a static menu screen like the Llylgamyn castle in Wizardry.
F: I understand the budget limitations, but my first impression was that I’d backed a casual Facebook RPG that somehow made its way onto PC. It looked just like KingsRoad. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if many abandoned the game at this point and never looked back. But in my sacred duty to preview it for the Codex I soldiered on. And it was then that I saw the great game that hid underneath.
CB: True, I feel like the game could’ve just skipped the beginning combat (which is too basic) as well as the beginning exploration (which is too linear), and wouldn’t have been any worse for it – heck, it would’ve been better. A lot changes after the first town.
F: I’d say it took me about half an hour to go from disappointed to excited. As I invested myself and understood the logic behind each mechanic, I was impressed. I can’t sum Xulima up in just a few words. The exploration is similar to Geneforge, but much tighter and with Zelda-like elements, while combat is that of blobbers, with an added layer of formations and positioning. All surrounded by robust resource management. I can recognize the individual mechanics, but they are put together in a brand new way. The small Spanish team behind Xulima clearly played a lot of RPGs and carefully examined the mechanics behind each game, what worked, what could be different, and what they could offer. Xulima is the result of that, a careful collection of mechanics and gameplay elements. It feels familiar, but for every aspect of it, there’s a interesting twist.
Using a musical metaphor, Xulima isn’t a cheap "Best of RPGs" CDs done by a mediocre cover band. It’s one of those albums where a good musician makes readings of his favorite songs in a new, amusing coating.
Gaulen and his friends
CB: There are indeed a lot of familiar elements, but this is also a double-edged sword. It makes the game fairly accessible to RPG fans – the classes are intuitive, as are combat and resource management – but there is a fair amount of quirks and catches, too, which might lead you astray if you approach it too routinely, especially when it comes to character development.
F: Speaking of which – just to introduce the classes – Xulima use a party of 6 characters, but one of them, Gaulen the Explorer, is the main character and cannot be changed. Instead, you create his five companions, choosing from nine classes: Arcane Soldier, Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Explorer, Mage, Paladin, Soldier, and Thief. The Summoner class, a Kickstarter stretch goal, isn’t available in the beta yet. There’s no stat rolling, but you can pick the deity that the character follows, which provides you with different bonuses.
CB: I mostly like the character creation, but I also wish I could use point-buy for starting attributes instead of those being fixed for each class. It is, however, neat that right-clicking any option at character creation gives you a thorough description of the accompanying effects, bonuses, etc. That reminded me of Knights of the Chalice’s interface. And I’m actually looking forward to the Summoner class a lot – I wonder if the summons are going to be similar to Final Fantasy summons (pardon the comparison) or ones that temporarily take up party slots (i.e. more akin to summoned henchmen).
F: I got some intel on that. One of the devs told me that the Summoner class will be able to summon up to two temporary characters, upgradeable through skills. It will also replace the Explorer class. You will still be forced to have Gaulen the Explorer in your party (something I’m not very fond of), but you won’t be able to create a second Explorer.
CB: That's nice to hear, even if having additional party members is probably going to be hard to balance. Even at this point, I have some balance complaints. The deity bonuses are uneven, for example; some of those are a no-brainer for certain classes – like a Strength or Agility bonus – but others feel like they’re just out there. Would anyone really choose a bonus to resistances or +3% to experience gained over a significant increase to one of the attributes?
The same goes for skills, some of which seem to exist solely to compensate for not investing into the respective attributes (Bodybuilding-Constitution, Meditation-Energy, etc.). And then there’s, say, Mercantilism, which lowers prices by... 1% per point.
F: Yeah, I can’t imagine anyone spending the skill points of an Arcane Soldier on Item Identification... It’s useless even for a Mage, since you can identify items at stores and it doesn’t cost that much. Aside from that, there’s other stuff I’m unhappy about, such as Barbarians only having passive skills. A character that simply attacks every turn is boring, it’s always more interesting to have some kind of resource management – like a strong attack that costs you all your energy. At least I can say that some progress is being made by the devs in this regard. When I first played the beta there were no bow skills at all, but those were patched in recently.
CB: Earlier I mentioned the devs could’ve just cut the first 20 or so minutes of combat and exploration, and I feel the same about the first couple of levels that your characters get. With a few exceptions, these beginning levels have nothing interesting to offer, ability-wise. With the Thief, it takes even longer to get any special combat moves – which aren’t even that powerful, to boot.
F: I agree, and I think it’s made even worse by the absence of a full skill list. You never know what and when each class will get, with new skills simply appearing when you level up. So it’s really hard to plan out your party and their skills.
CB: Taking the Josh Sawyer Approach™, each class should ideally have its own strengths and weaknesses both in the early and the late game. Now, I can’t speak of the late game, but that isn’t quite the case for the early to mid-game since the classes are fairly unequal – though of course, a lot comes down to how you build them. But even though I simply rolled with the first party I created, I didn’t have any problems with encounters being too difficult – they were generally just about right. And that’s actually a pretty good achievement.
F: Same thing here. Most battles felt finely tuned, and the few encounters that were too difficult could be solved by spending more money on powerful magic scrolls and buying some blessings from the local priestess. It was a heavy monetary investment, but it did give me the upper hand. I think that’s a good compromise.
CB: I feel like the difficulty balance on Normal (called Classic here) is okay, but the class balance is a bit off. In my party – which consisted of an Explorer, an Arcane Soldier, a Cleric, and a Thief (all front row), as well as a Bard and a Mage (back row) – the Thief was definitely a disappointment in combat. Good thing I pumped up her Speed a lot, which allowed me to stack some damage and Bleed effects. This feels like something inherited from early Wizardry games, where you only brought a Thief along because of their trap disarm ability.
In the end, however, these are just balance nitpicks, at least some of which will, I hope, get ironed out before the final release.
F: On that point, I really hate the Paladin. He’s weaker than the other melee fighters and can’t heal the party by himself, so you’ll need a Cleric anyway, making the Paladin useless. In fact, I would say that having both a Cleric and a Thief is mandatory. Coupled with the fact that Gaulen the Explorer is also forced on you, in the end you can actually only select 3 of your 6 characters. I hope they fix this, at least by improving the Paladin, or by giving some healing spells to the Summoner.
CB: I’d give some healing abilities to the Explorer, too. His current combat skills are a bit underwhelming, and it’d make sense for an Explorer to be able to patch himself and other party members up.
There are many other things of note here, but since we’re talking character advancement, I'm going to say I really enjoy that the game makes you spread out your skill and attribute points when leveling-up instead of allowing (or encouraging) you to pump all of them into a single skill or attribute (like e.g. Strength for Fighters). First, even though you get two attribute points whenever you reach a new level, you can only increase a given attribute by one, meaning the second point has to go to a different attribute. Second, there are several attributes that matter for every class. Take the Cleric, for example: you can make her into a hard-hitting front line Cleric that soaks up damage, or a fast and evasive Cleric with an emphasis on Speed, or one with a high Power Point pool (Energy + Meditation) for the purpose of focusing on spellcasting, or some combination thereof. There may be no involved special skills here like in Etrian Odyssey, no plethora of stats to invest in like in Labyrinth of Touhou, and no class switching like in Wizardry. But importantly, it all “clicks” and makes you look forward to the next level-up, since every level you gain really does make a difference.
Fighting with special effects
F: I also really enjoyed Xulima’s random encounters. They only occur in specific dangerous areas, and are actually limited to roaming enemies. As you defeat them, the encounter difficulty rises, and once you’ve defeated all enemies in the area, it becomes a safe zone and you get some bonus XP. In general, most elements of the game have a twist, some sort of "fix" to their usual downsides.
CB: Yeah, random encounters are handled really well. They’re properly spaced out and properly tuned, difficulty-wise. Most of them are avoidable, too, either by spending Power Points or using a special skill. And then there are the hellhounds: an unavoidable encounter that may strike at any given moment and keeps you on your toes. I found this combination to be pretty great and addictive (gotta “beat” all those areas for additional XP!).
F: Those hellhounds are a pain... but a good kind of pain. Which brings us to the topic of combat. Xulima employs a first-person, party-based, turn-based combat, but with rows. There are 8 slots for your characters to take, half of those being the front row and the other half being the back row, from which only ranged characters (equipped with bows or pole arms) can attack. Nothing new here.
However, instead of going for the insane exponential damage increase so common in games today, Xulima’s combat focuses on status effects. Each weapon type causes a different kind of effect. Swords and daggers make enemies bleed, taking damage over time; maces and pole arms stun, delaying their next action; and axes causes wounds, decreasing enemy stats. Spells, abilities and magical weapons can also poison, freeze, burn, curse, put to sleep, etc. Careful use of status effects is your key to victory.
CB: Stacking all those status effects reminded me of South Park: The Stick of Truth, except much less exploitable – and that was actually one of the few good ideas that game had.
Here, too, however, the issue of class balance surfaces again: the Arcane Soldier’s abilities are particularly overpowered early on, with other melee-focused classes lagging behind them even at relatively higher levels. If I had to choose three abilities (from those that my party had) that are perhaps too invaluable in the early game, they’d have to be the Mage’s Sparks, the Arcane Soldier’s Flaming Sword, and the Bard’s Song of Stunning. The latter is basically Xulima’s equivalent of the Sleep spell in low-level D&D.
F: Yeah, I agree that they rule in the early game. But as I went further into the game, things started to change. There were enemies immune to fire, and others resistant to stun. As I started to face encounters consisting of one strong opponent instead of armies of weak ones, it became more important to wound the enemy to make him weaker and prone to miss, and to stun it to give my party time to heal up. And then there are downsides to some skills: I initially thought that bleeding was overpowered, but it doesn’t work on plants or the undead. I like that.
CB: Some of the abilities are quirky, too. It’s a bit weird that, say, the Bard’s Song of Rage or Song of Courage only work on adjacent allies and not the entire party. I kinda wish there was a Voice stat that would influence how loud the Bard’s songs are, because he must be singing pretty quietly if those standing two meters away from him can’t hear them!
F: The Paladin’s auras work the same way. It’s not a bad mechanic per se, but I think it limits party positioning too much... You always have to keep your Paladin or Bard in the middle for them to be effective.
CB: Weapon reach is another odd thing. Whenever there’s an enemy stuck in a corner of the battlefield, only two of your front line (non-ranged) characters can attack it, the rest having nothing to do except buff those two or skip their turns. That can be a bit anticlimactic and slow the encounter down. Given that the game has chosen to make reach and positioning into a factor (so that you can even change your characters’ positions mid-combat), I wish it had a way of manipulating the enemy’s positioning, too, such as pushing or pulling them.
F: I must also say that grouping halberds and magical staffs together under the "Staff" skill was extremely confusing. Especially since it’s rare to find halberds in the early game, so I never even thought of making a strong back-row fighter.
Another thing people might dislike is that attacks are not certain to hit. In fact, unless you're using various buffs and debuffs, you won't commonly see a chance to hit higher than 70-80%. Flee now if you have traumas from Battle for Wesnoth. In fact, the whole weapon progression is built around that. More powerful weapons are harder to use, and so decrease your chance to hit. So if you equip a too powerful weapon, you might not land a single blow. Of course, you can buff yourself to increase hit chance or wound enemies to decrease their evasion. Plus, an attack on a stunned enemy always hit.
CB: Speaking of buffs, temple blessings can help a lot. Those can be anything from an increase to resistances or experience gained to a very significant and helpful +5 to Strength, Constitution, Speed and/or any other attribute for the entire party. (The Constitution bonus in particular is very helpful if you’re like me and barely put any points in CON at all.) Any given blessing lasts 24 hours, which is enough to beat some of the game's tougher encounters. In fact, thanks to blessings, I was able to explore the game world in an order which I felt was the "wrong" one – going from an area with tougher encounters to one where most of them were a pushover by the time I got there.
F: Yeah, as I said before, some encounters were only beaten due a massive stack of blessings... that ruined my savings. But hey, that’s what money is for.
CB: So, how tactical do you think the combat is overall?
F: I enjoyed it. While the row system is somewhat underutilized and mostly amounts to "melee in front, ranged in the back," the fact that status effects play such a big role is very interesting. And enemies exploit that, too, so you have to be careful. I remember I was destroying everyone in the arena with my Barbarian, but then a single Frozen Skeleton Archer appeared. He had very little health – would probably die in two blows – but I was never able to land the second one because he froze my character, who had low ice resistance, on every turn. And then there are enemies that make the whole party bleed, who confuse or curse you, etc. And how about you, did you have a good time?
CB: I sure did. Just as in exploration, the most tactical aspect of Xulima’s combat is actually resource management – and as you said, it’s not just about HP and Power Points, but also about status effects, resistances, scrolls, consumables, etc. That’s where I think a lot of Xulima’s combat tactics come from, and not just from utilizing specific special abilities.
I guess it's time we talked about the exploration, too.
Exploring the lands of Xulima
F: Exploration is isometric, which isn’t the most immersive of choices, but the zoomed-in view, the dense fog of war and the clever level design make it very interesting. There’s always something interesting around the corner, a hidden item (there’s no item highlight key) or even a secret path, sometimes through what appears to be an impassable wall of trees.
CB: It’s true, it feels like every corner of the world has at least something interesting to it, something that makes it worth exploring and clearing out that fog of war. The only thing I kept wishing for was edge scrolling for the camera – sometimes you just want to have a good overview of the surrounding area, which the zoomed-out map can’t really give you. You can also explore in any direction, or venture into any dungeon, as long as you’ve found the key and/or can defeat the encounters in your way. I wouldn’t call the game fully "open world," since – similarly to Divinity: Original Sin, to use a recent comparison – enemies that are significantly higher-level can be essentially undefeatable, but it does give you enough freedom and sometimes even alternative paths to reach the same objective.
F: I also like that dungeons have a unique feel. Some are just combat areas, others a clever mix of traps, enemies and hazards, and some just one big elaborate puzzle. They aren’t very long, but usually entertaining. Inside, you’ll often spot traps (as long as your Perception skill is high enough). Some of them appear as red areas that can be disarmed, similarly to Baldur’s Gate. But there are also spikes, which should be carefully navigated around (you can even use the keyboard for more precise navigation), or hazards, such as a room on fire, webs full of spiders, or venomous gas, that you can either endure or neutralize by using expensive magic scrolls.
CB: Some of the hazards may also include higher-level enemies that you must avoid to get through the area, such as the mushroom meadow on the first map. It helps that hovering the mouse pointer over an enemy shows how close you can get to it without being detected. A rudimentary “stealth” mechanic, if you will. I admit that the aforementioned meadow was a bit of a pain for me - at first. In my playthrough, I decided to cross it, and then crossed back. After that, the very thought of going through the motions yet again was so painful that I decided to explore a higher-level area first. Then, as soon as I got strong enough, I simply killed some of the mushrooms as well as the orc that was blocking the road that lets you avoid the valley altogether. Yay for alternative solutions!
F: I only wish those were more frequent. There are occasions where you do have alternative paths, but there are also many where there’s a strong enemy on the road to a new area, with no way around it. Still, the beta offered me enough different areas to explore, so I never felt forced into one single battle.
CB: One occasional complaint I have about the exploration is the encounter design and variety in some areas. Fighting the same enemy group multiple times on the way to the first prince, for example, got tedious fast. They had the exact same party composition, and every fight just lasted too long (though I admit I was a bit underleveled). As a rule, though, and to the game’s credit, the encounter design was usually fine, with a good balance between different types of enemies.
F: Agreed. Plus there are also various little details that add some additional charm to the game. Riddles are solved using a text parser, so the answer isn’t gated by progress, and you can’t simply try all the possible choices by saving and reloading. Disarming traps and unlocking doors is done through mini-games that are actually good, but you can also force locks open or endure the trap’s damage, both of which will cost you some time.
CB: Yeah, I second the mini-games being fairly good and non-intrusive. But you mentioned damage and time, so let’s discuss resource management.
The poorest power fantasy ever
F: And here we talk about my favorite aspect of the game. Every action you perform, from simply walking to forcing doors open to resting, consumes food. Run out of food and you'll suffer a massive debuff, or even die of starvation on the Hardcore difficulty setting. And man, is food expensive. In fact, everything is expensive, especially healing your characters of status effects. In the early game, lifting the curse from two or more characters can mean selling a piece of gear to pay for the bills.
CB: Tell me about it! I actually had to do that quite a few times, instead of saving up all that powerful gear for later. It doesn’t help that your Constitution limits the amount of stuff you can carry quite severely.
F: There are also various other ways to find yourself broke, as beside food you need torches, lockpicks, magic scrolls, and so on, and those blasted peasants keep raising their prices as you level up! (Not the most elegant of game mechanics, but it works well enough.) Not to mention the thieves roaming the roads, who will steal a fortune and run away unless you kill them quickly, or a vast desert requiring huge amounts of food to be crossed. I honestly don’t remember ever playing anything like this before, even 30 hours in I was still counting coins and thinking about the cheapest way to do stuff.
CB: Haha, yeah, food management is a pain. You should always try to estimate in advance how far you’re willing to explore given the amount of food you have. One thing I didn’t find so good about it, though, was that you can only buy food for a certain number of days at the store and those days don’t add up to the ones you already have. To elaborate, having, say, 1 day’s worth of food left and buying provision for 3 days means you’re left with just that, 3 days of food, and not 4 – the numbers don’t stack.
F: Yeah, the logic here is that the longer a food must last, the more expensive it is. Figuratively speaking, you can't stack two apples, because they would rot. You must have an apple and dry meat instead. It makes some sense, but it's horribly explained.
Here’s another example to show that the economy actually matters: when you first enter the starting town, a guard asks for a toll of 100 gold coins. Okay, who cares, done that a million times before. But once again, there’s a twist: you must pay the toll every 24 hours. So every time you go out on adventures, sacking some phat lewt, you’ll have to pay 100 gold upon your return. This is a big deal, because the game is difficult. Many a time you’ll go out, kill an enemy or two, and then come back to buy more food or heal yourself. And that toll will take its toll.
CB: Is it really every 24 hours? I thought it was more like every couple of days, but I might be wrong.
F: Eh, about a day or so.... Now that you mention it, I’m not really sure anymore. But even here the game offers some freedom. As soon as I got strong enough, I decided to simply attack the guard and end his evil empire of extortion. It worked and I was able to save some money, but now the other guards were alerted and would attack me on sight.
CB: Good thing that, as soon as you can defeat one of them, you can defeat them all!
F: Finally, and perhaps most importantly, these economic hardships are further influenced by the difficulty setting. Xulima offers Casual (already harder than many games out there), Classic and Hardcore modes, changed to Normal, Veteran and Hardcore in one of the latest patches. There’s the usual HP/Damage increase for enemies and decrease for your party, but that isn't really what makes the game harder. The biggest challenge, again, comes from resource management. You’ll find about the same amount of gold and food on each difficulty level, but the fact that you take more damage and need to spend more resources in battle means you’ll require more rest (and thus more food) and spend fortunes on healing, scrolls and potions.
To test that out, I cleared the first dungeon on all difficulty modes. On Casual I had over 1000 gold and some decent equipment, while on Hardcore I was broke and had to sell some of the loot I found and all the herbs I collected in order to pay for disease treatment. And man, was it tense! Seeing your resources go down the drain and debuffs pile up is a completely different kind of challenge compared to just having enemies with a billion hit points. A much scarier one, too.
CB: I only played on Classic myself, and it was already pretty tense at times, so I can only imagine how demanding it gets on Hardcore. Even on Classic, I found every additional bit of XP to be highly important. In the first castle, for example, I missed out on a whole lot of experience because I defeated the prince before taking on most of his minions, after which they just disbanded. The experience I could’ve gotten by killing them was lost, and the XP hoarder in me cried.
There are also many other diversions we could discuss, such as the arena or some of the optional dungeons, but let’s save that for the proper review after the game’s full release. On the whole, when it comes to both resource management and exploration, the game has a really good feeling of progression. It also gets more, and not less, challenging as you go along. This is a good sign, and I hope it stays that way throughout the entire game.
F: Trust me, it does. For one, there’s the aforementioned desert later on that will probably make a lot of people playing on Hardcore rage-quit.
Thank you hero, but there's another prince in another castle
CB: Let’s talk about the story now.
F: Well, Xulima’s plot is very basic. After creating your party, you set sail for the fabled land of Xulima, with a Baldur's Gate-style chapter intro telling you about Gaulen's quest. Golot, one of the nine gods, appeared in his dreams and told him to travel to Xulima, where he must liberate the Sacred Temples from the Guardian of Souls.
CB: I must admit that I barely paid any attention to the story at all. For some reason I thought the game was set in a world that was supposed to have some Spanish flavor to it, but aside from names like Xulima, it just felt like every other fantasy game ever. Did I miss something?
F: I didn’t notice anything remotely Spanish. In fact, everything had very weird names that always confused me whenever I needed to teleport to one of the towns and couldn’t recall which was which. A wasted opportunity in my opinion, as using cool quasi-Spanish names would’ve been more interesting and memorable than pseudo-Tolkien nonsense like "Nengorth" or "Khornil."
We should keep in mind that Lords of Xulima is an indie game done on a tight budget, which raised only $35,000 in its Kickstarter campaign plus $12,000 on IndieGoGo. A quick glance at their stretch goal map shows that they had much more ambitious goals. Perhaps also in order to make ends meet, the game is somewhat formulaic. You must cleanse eight temples spread throughout the continent of Xulima and sealed by the four ruling princes. To do so, you have to obtain the key for each of them and also explore ancient towers to retrieve sacred artifacts to help you on your journey. Along the way you’ll find various towns, each with a job board containing some side-quests you can do.
CB: When I first heard about the 8 temples and the 4 princes, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes a little.
F: The lack of budget also affected the art assets, I think. There are very few icons for equipment, some of the enemies are just color-swapped, and NPCs and buildings use the same assets throughout the game.
I’d say that the limited art assets and the formulaic main quest come together awkwardly, leading to some strong déjà vu moments. Purifying the first temple was fun; I had to brave a tower full of puzzles, battle the oppressive prince and his soldiers to get the key to the temple, and cleanse the temple itself from the dark god’s servants. But then I went north and there was another tainted temple, another tower and another prince in his castle, protected by color-swapped soldiers.
CB: Well, if this helps, I actually thought the second temple was better than the first one! I think the puzzles in the first temple were a bit disappointing, to be honest. Especially getting to the prince himself was a bit too easy – like I said, I unwittingly avoided most of his soldiers just by pulling a secret switch which led me straight to the key to the throne room. But anyway, to get back to the second temple...
F: ...you have to face completely different challenges there. The tower has an amusing teleporter maze, the castle has a different logic than the previous one, and the prince fights very differently and kicked my ass multiple times. As I went on, there was always a twist to the formula, like finding one of the towers pillaged and its relic being used against you, etc. Furthermore, the surrounding areas remained interesting as well, offering new hazards and puzzles and filled with unique enemies.
CB: I had to stop playing the game after the second temple just so we could discuss it and do this preview, but I'm really looking forward to what the rest of the game has to offer.
F: I’m happy to inform you that after the second temple things get even more diverse, and exploration opens up a lot. I could access three other temples at once, deciding which to face first. There were huge deserts, burning gardens, and some other nice surprises. Surprises that I hadn’t thought the game would be able to offer.
This all goes back to what I think is Xulima’s main issue: the presentation constantly makes you think less of the game. A lot less.
CB: So, to conclude this preview, what are your final thoughts on Xulima – the aftertaste, so to speak?
F: As you can tell, I really enjoyed my time with Lords of Xulima. It's a breath of fresh air, while also being a testament to classic RPGs. However, creating such a huge game with a small studio and even smaller budget led to some cut corners, especially in the art department. The formulaic main quest may have helped ends meet, but also cheapens the experience a little.
CB: Do you think it will sell?
F: I do worry that Xulima will be horribly overlooked. Not only are there the presentation issues I mentioned, but the year of incline, between Divinity: Original Sin, Wasteland 2, and Pillars of Eternity, isn’t a good time to release a low-profile budget title. Still, those that decide to give it a chance will certainly be surprised.
CB: Yeah, to sum up everything we’ve been saying up to this point, once you’ve gotten used to the game’s quirks and as long as you enjoy this kind of non-story focused RPG, Xulima offers a unique and fascinating experience.
Of course, just to get this straight, Lords of Xulima is a fairly niche game. It isn’t a “full-fledged” RPG like Divinity: Original Sin, Wasteland 2 or Baldur’s Gate. Nor is it a tactical RPG like Blackguards, Jagged Alliance 2 or Final Fantasy Tactics. The things it does, however, it does well, and as a fan of first-person RPGs, I can’t wait for the final release.
F: I hope it sells well. I would really like to see what Numantian Games could do with a bigger budget.
CB: As would I. Well, fingers crossed.