Numen: Contest of Heroes Review

Eschalon: Book II

Release Date:2010-05-11
  • Action,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Buy this Game: Amazon ebay
Numen: Contest of Heroes is an action role-playing game from Cinemax, a Czech developer normally known for iPhone/iPod games, including -- and yes, I'm looking this up -- the ever-popular Gumboy Smilies.  In Numen, you start out as a child in the small town of Leros, and from there you eventually become the chosen hero of one of nine Greek gods (including Zeus and Hades), where you have to compete against the other eight heroes to see who can track down and recover the stolen Sickle of Kronos before it's put to misuse.

The best part of Numen is the introductory sequence.  All you do when you create your character is choose a name and a gender (neither of which make much of a difference), and then how you play the game as a child in Leros determines which class you'll be when you grow up.  So if you spend your childhood shooting things with a bow, then you'll become an archer.  If you use melee weapons, then you'll become a warrior.  And if you focus on spells, then you'll become a mage.  The sequence works pretty well, both in introducing you to the mechanics of the game and to the world you're in, and it sets up nicely the events that transpire when you're an adult.

Unfortunately, the adult part of the game doesn't work as well.  Numen has an interesting premise, where you're the chosen hero of a god and you're competing against other heroes, but nothing really happens with it.  Numen isn't a Soldak-style game where competing heroes actually have a chance to beat you.  Instead, the heroes just stand around, and every so often you get a chance to help or hinder one.  During my game, I caused two other heroes to get killed (by tricking them into doing something stupid), but this had no impact on the game, other than to reduce the field in the hero tournaments that you have to participate in every so often.

The mechanics of the game are also a little bit strange.  Each class gets a handful of skills they can learn, and your god can also teach you some skills, but sort of annoyingly skills have a double cost, both in energy and stamina.  Energy is basically the same as what you see in other games (where it's sometimes called mana), but the idea behind stamina is unique to Numen.  Your stamina total determines how quickly you regenerate health, and if you run out of stamina, then you stop regenerating altogether.  The annoying part is that the only way to replenish your stamina is to rest at a campfire, but you only find one or two campfires per map, and every time you rest, enemies respawn.  So the only way to really make progress in the game is to avoid your skills as much as possible, which makes the frequent battles sort of tedious, since you mostly just click on an enemy once to initiate the battle and then twiddle your thumbs for a while until it's over.  I've never played an action RPG before where the developer tried so hard to make the game less fun to play.

There are also some other oddities.  There's a dice game you can play to gamble for items, but for some reason two of the six symbols come up way more often than the others, making the game pretty easy to win.  Nothing in the equipment icons shows whether you can use the items or not, or what their quality is, and so you have to hover the mouse over each item to figure these things out.  Combat is sort of clumsy, and half of the skills cause your character to stop fighting.  Inventory space is limited, but it's easy to get stuck with quest items that you're not allowed to throw away.  Your quest journal rarely tells you even the basics of the quests, so it's easy to get lost.  And there's a thoroughly lame sequence involving a labyrinth at the end of the game, where you first have to blunder through it to find a minotaur, and then after defeating the minotaur you have to blunder back out.  The labyrinth sequence was my least favorite hour playing an RPG in a long time.

If you can ignore the above problems, then Numen is a perfectly functional action RPG.  You use the WASD keys or the mouse to move your character around, you use the left mouse button to attack enemies, and you use hotkeys to cast spells or use skills.  Enemies drop equipment of varying quality when they die, and you're given just enough quests to encourage you to explore the world that you're in, plus eventually figure out who stole the Sickle of Kronos.  It's just that all of these activities are pretty minimalistic.  There are just barely enough skills, items and enemies to make the game worthwhile.  The more I played Numen, the more it seemed that even an action RPG was too big of a project for Cinemax, and that they're probably better off sticking to iPods.

Still, Numen: Contest of Heroes cost me a grand total of $2, and it's difficult to be too unforgiving of a $2 game.  The campaign took me about 15 hours to complete, and when I switched from the normal difficulty setting to the easy setting (which is actually the default) the pace picked up enough to make the game halfway entertaining.  Nothing about Numen is great, and I found many of Cinemax's decisions to be curious at best, but the game works and seems to be reasonably bug-free, and if you go in with low enough expectations, then it might help you kill some time over a weekend that you don't know what else to do with.