An action-RPG (role-playing game), in Fictorum you play the titular character – a powerful mage/spellcaster who can ‘shape’ a spell (that is, control variables such as speed, duration, bounce, blast radius, amd number of projectiles). Having fled the Inquisition, the organisation which has killed his fellows and condemned him to death, the Fictorum sets out to seek revenge against the High Inquisitor. In order to achieve this, the player moves through a randomly generated world-map, with each location leading to a specific scenario/arena, aiming to reach the final location. All the while, the Inquisition follows behind. If they ever catch-up, the result will be a battle against overwhelming odds which the player is unlikely to survive. While the story, though cleverly constructed, may not be much to write home about (as is the case with most computer games), the battles are another matter, and the battles are the heart and soul of Fictorum.
From the the Dragon Reborn, the Foresaken and the Aes Sedai from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time books, to the Maiar and Witch King from Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, we’ve all read or heard about characters wielding enough arcane power to shatter the gates of a city destroy an entire army. Unfortunately, when it comes to video-games the reality is usually less exciting. As a general rule, spellcasters are ‘glass-cannons’ (capable of dealing out a lot of damage quickly, but also incredibly vulnerable), with abilities that often feel like the lesser version of the weapons from a first person shooter. Or worse, they’re relegated to support roles – healing and giving short-lived bonuses to sword-wielding adventurers that have all the fun.
Not so with Fictorum. Alert to my presence, the soldiers rush at me. There are easily a dozen of them. Some wield swords and shields, some use javelins, a handful are armed with bows and arrows, and all clad in the tan leather armour of the Inquisition. It matters not. Time flows to a trickle, a fireball forms in my hands as I ‘shape’ it, increasing it’s speed and blast radius. Suddenly, time returns to normal as the flames leap forward. Striking the ground the ground just infront of the oncoming soldiers, the fireball erupts in an earthshaking explosion, flinging away the bodies of those unfortunate enough to be caught in its blast, and shattering the nearby house. As bits of building fly through the air, one of the survivors heaves his javelin at me. Almost contemptuously, I watch its arc through the air. A fraction of a second before impact, I teleport, moving away from the javelin, and towards the soliders. They never have a chance to use their swords. A negligent flick of the wrist unleashes a shockwave that blasts them off the narrow ridge they were occupying. And then there was one. He should have fled. Instead, he decided to make a suicidal rush towards me. No shockwaves, fireballs or teleporting this time. Instead, a cold beam of blue light jets from my outstretched fingers towards the foe. By the time I cut the beam off, the soldier is no more, and where he stood, now stands a forlorn looking snowman.
The above battle scene actually describes one of the more tame encounters, and it’s not at all uncommon for a pitched battle to leave an entire village in rubble. Every structure you see, whether it’s a guard tower, town house or even a fortress, can be demolished. The physics simulations are as over the top as they are fun - landing a fireball on a house will see it fly apart in a shower of debris, while a carefully aimed shot at a bridge’s support columns can bring the entire structure down.
That’s not to say that you’re invincible. While it’s easy to dish out the destruction, it’s equally easy to pick up damage, and chances to replenish your heath are few and costly. This leads to wild swings in tempo – at one moment you’ll feel like a demi-god raining destruction down upon helpless enemies, while the next you’ll be teleporting and sprinting like a lunatic, trying to desperately dodge projectiles and put some distance between you and your enemies as you wait for your mana (the ever-replenishing pool of energy used for spellcasting) to recharge. You can cast with low mana, but the shortfall is exacted from your health bar – useful in dire-straights, but literally self-defeating.
The spells are also satisfyingly varied, ranging from energy beams, lightning bolts and fireballs, to the ludicrous such as summoning Christmas-present projectiles and making giant trees burst from the ground. The RPG elements allow for some character customisation, tweaking statistics such as how much mana you have, how quickly it replenishes and so on by buying, finding or crafting items. However, it’s really the ability to customise your spells where the fun lies. Each spell can have a number of runes applied, increasing the effectiveness of the spell, or entirely changing how it behaves, giving players a chance to experiment and come up with some surprising combinations [see the interview for an example - Ed.].
It should be noted that while the sheer destruction you can cause in Fictorum can be a delight to behold, all this physics-based destruction does come at a cost – and to get the most bang for your buck you will need a fairly powerful computer. Also there are the odd rough patches. Animations do feel a little ‘floaty’, and the wild tempo swings in fights can lead to a level of frustration when the tide suddenly shifts against you. That said, these don’t really detract from the central experience, and the developers are continually listening to community feedback and regularly updating the game.
All in all, Fictorum sets a new bar in the depiction of video-game spellcasters. At its best, it’s a delightfully destructive romp of flying foes, debris and fireballs .■