Lichdom: Battlemage Early Access Review
Uh oh, it's magic!
GameSpot's early access reviews evaluate unfinished games that are nonetheless available for purchase by the public. While the games in question are not considered finished by their creators, you may still devote money, time, and bandwidth for the privilege of playing them before they are complete. The review below critiques a work in progress, and represents a snapshot of the game at the time of the review's publication.
I admit I have very little idea of what's going on in Lichdom: Battlemage. The cutscenes recently added to this unfinished game are gorgeous and dramatic, and the new voice-overs are delivered with conviction, but I am not sure where I am and why I'm there. What matters is that I can summon ice and fire to my palms and fling them at scowling demonic warriors. Never has magic felt as powerful as it does in Lichdom, where it is free from the shackles of mana bars and long cooldowns. I march through ruins overgrown with ivy and rush down snowy paths dotted with evergreens, controlling the elements as if I were a demigod.
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I enjoy Lichdom's magical combat so much, in fact, that I suspect it will spoil other games' spellcasting for me, so fluid does it feel. Corrupted magical flakes billow forth from my fingers and infect my attackers with bugs that spawn when their host perishes. I heave bursts of purple energy into skeletons, making them autonomous pets that assist me in battle. An autotargeting system may seem an odd thing to praise, but Lichdom's homing assists let me show off my impressive wizardry even when my opponents and I are constantly on the move. It's a fun and engaging system of dodges, blocks, and attacks that flow smoothly from one move to the next.
You start with only fire and ice at your disposal, though your options grow as you progress through the two sizable levels Lichdom currently offers. You equip three different schools of magic at a time, each of which has three basic types of actions: a targeted spell, an area-of-effect attack, and a shield that allows you to counter offensive moves as well as to mitigate damage. You can flip between these three schools at will, using the mind-control spells of the delirium sigil to gain helpful assists before wading into a mob and burning your opponents to a crisp. During battle, the air is awash with magic as you strafe about, avoiding oncoming spells and slinging icy projectiles.
The experience is gorgeous, though taxing to your PC, and it's hard not to appreciate the heavily detailed stone temples and splintered ice floes. The overwhelming CryEngine-powered beauty is not enough to stave off creeping repetition, however. Foes appear in a predictable fashion, and while the various spells provide some diversity to how you cut through the swarms, each encounter feels more or less like the last. The specifics change, but the pace rarely wavers, and the second map's rough level of difficulty, which makes for frequent deaths and respawns, emphasizes the tedium of Lichdom's linear path. The spellcasting feels amazing, but I longed for something a bit more--a set-piece show of destruction, a large-scale battle with a legion of mages at my side, or an environmental puzzle to solve. The bosses provide a bit of a tempo change, but my general tactics rarely wavered.
Nevertheless, Lichdom is poised for greatness, with its spell-creation utility helping to lead the charge. As foes fall, they leave behind various spell components that you can synthesize into more effective materials, and then combine to make new, more powerful spells. The types of spells--targeted, AOE, and shield--never change, but they gain new characteristics and statistics, with simple fireballs turning into flaming death balls with a chance to stagger targets and set them on fire for a period of time. Early on, I paid close attention to how I combined spells, choosing skills and components that seemed best suited to my play style from the two or three options the game typically offered during crafting. In time, however, the differences between similar spells were too minute for me to care, and I focused on synthesizing components at random until I had epic-level spells to equip. I love the freedom of the spellcrafting, but there comes a moment when the differences stop feeling meaningful.
There's no doubt, however, that Lichdom: Battlemage nails the basics. Never have I felt more like a commanding sorcerer than I do here, which makes me ache for more ways to show off my spellcasting skills. If developer Xaviant can give its game coherent narrative context and diversify the unwavering pace, Lichdom could ride its waves of elemental energy to glory.
Two large levels, five magical sigils, endless spell customization, and fluid spellcasting.
What's to Come?
A New-Game-Plus mode, bug fixes, performance optimization, more levels, balance tweaks, and more.
What Does it Cost?
$19.99, available via Steam.
When Will it Be Finished?
The current announced release date is August 26, 2014.
What's the Verdict?
In Lichdom: Battlemage, the full power of the elements courses through your veins. Unvaried pacing leads to repetition, but such a forceful foundation is difficult to ignore.