Thankfully, this RPG only feels like it never ends.
- Once you get past the suffering, you'll have a lot of laughs (at the game's expense).
- Visuals straight out of a late-'90s golf game
- unbalanced monster encounters
- dated, ineffective turn-based combat engine
- ludicrous dialogue and voice acting.
If you're a fan of role-playing games and point-and-click adventures, NeverEnd will offend you on just about every possible level. This cross-genre effort from Bratislava's Mayhem Studios is so far behind the times that it's about as modern as the telegram, with graphics straight out of a decade-old golf game and gameplay clunky enough to evoke fond memories of the Commodore 64. Unless you're looking for some laughs or a trip down memory lane, stay far, far away from this one.
That said, at least the setup is sort of intriguing. Instead of playing the usual unsung hero or stuffed shirt in chain mail, here you take the role of Agavaen, a female thief. Her band of merry men kicks off the game by holding a drunken party in the woods to celebrate the heist of a chest full of gold pieces. Unfortunately, by the time she wakes up with a killer hangover the next morning, a couple of her pals have scrammed with the booty, and the boss of the outfit blames her for leading them all astray with her feminine wiles. But rather than take any guff about her love of crop tops, Agavaen kills him and sets off on a quest to recover the cash.
A capable designer could have had a lot of fun with such an antihero premise. Mayhem Studios, however, somehow couldn't construct a viable game around Agavaen, the hot-chick thief. Although the developer does a reasonable job of walking the lline between the RPG and adventure genres by adding role-playing stats, level progression, and although the game is turn-based, a hack-and-slash Diablo vibe to point-and-click adventuring, the game mechanics are abysmal. Once you get beyond the bones of the admittedly beefy feature set, the game falls apart.
Balance is a huge problem. In terms of difficulty, the encounters in NeverEnd are all over the place. Right from the beginning of the game, you might run into monsters that are powerful enough to slaughter you in seconds. This continues to occur throughout the game. You'll be moving along just fine, then suddenly, you run into a pair of ghosts you can't even scratch, or a couple of faeries (yes, faeries) who smoke you in seconds with critical hits. The game is pretty heavy on combat, as well, and there is no way to avoid going mano a mano on a frequent basis, as battles appear totally out of the blue when you're exploring the wilderness. One moment you're wandering through an empty clearing, then the next moment, you see a "Prepare for Battle" warning and are off to yet another melee with who knows what kinds of enemies.
Given all that, it probably shouldn't surprise you that the combat engine itself is also poorly designed. Battles use a turn-based system that feels and functions much like what was used once upon a time in RPGs--as in the classic AD&D Gold Box games from the late 1980s and early 1990s. When battle begins, you immediately shift to a third-person arena where you select a combat action (typically fighting with a melee weapon or casting a spell), pick an attack type or spell, and then watch as you shuffle forward and take a swing at the targeted opponent.
The entire process works reasonably well, but it seems like a glimpse into the distant past. Combat is slow, clunky, lacking in tension, and hampered by some extremely choppy character animations. However, many of the battle arenas look good before anyone starts moving, and some battles even take place in gorgeous tree-covered clearings that are spotted with sunlight and shadow. Still, there are just a handful of these arenas, so you're fighting in the same locations all the time, and many don't match the setting that you're exploring on the map. You may be wandering through a swamp, but as soon as a fight begins, you're often magically transported to a shady glade that is complete with a bower in the background--as if you just interrupted somebody's backyard wedding.
Other presentation values are also many years out of date. Outdoor vistas look a lot like something you would have seen in a golf game seven or eight years ago, with jagged 3D characters and objects on top of backdrop photographs of cloudy skies, forested hills, and trees. At times it's hard to tell if you're in a fantasy game or are about to tackle the back nine at Sawgrass. There are no frills here, either. Pick up a non-player character to tag along in your adventures, and you only see him or her when you're engaged in combat. At all other times when you're exploring the map, you just get an icon in the top right of the screen to remind you of your buddy's presence.
Audio belongs in a museum as well. Not to belabor the golf-game comparisons, but outdoor sound effects include bird chirping and animal trilling, exactly like you heard when playing Links LS 98. The soundtrack loops the same annoying synthesizer tune over and over again every couple of minutes. Voice acting is so bad that you'd swear the actors are making fun of the script. Most of the lines sound like they were voiced by drama-class teenagers who were forced to stay after school and record this drivel for extra credit. All of the dialogue sounds crazily rushed, so subdued that you want to reach into the screen and check the speaker for a pulse or so overacted that it's impossible to believe that the actors are taking any of it seriously.
You won't be able to take NeverEnd seriously either. While you might ultimately find some unintentional humor with this game, there are too many great RPGs and adventure games out there for you to waste your time laughing at how lousy this one is.