Druidstone: The Secret of the Menhir Forest Review

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Eschalon: Book II

Release Date:2019-05-15
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The game also autosaves your progress between missions, and unless you want to quit, you can't save manually. Which would be understandable in a game inspired by the roguelike genre, a game where you have to make tough tactical decisions and live with their outcomes. Druidstone is not like that. Each of its missions is almost like a puzzle, where you want to complete every single objective in the most efficient way possible.

Without being able to save, a single mistake can ruin your perfect run, and that would be bad enough already given that the game doesn't even have checkpoints. But you add those little random elements into the mix and you get a game where trial and error can be the only way to progress.

Especially if you consider that on top of everything you see on the field when a missions starts, you will most likely be forced to deal with a timer of some sort and additional waves of enemies spawning in as the mission progresses. Those enemies will routinely surprise you with abilities you've never seen before, and the missions themselves can take surprising and unpredictable turns at various points.

This leads to a lot of frustration when you're forced to replay missions several times if you want to perfect them. Which, once again, would be fine in a game that's different every time you play it. But when the game is as deterministic as Druidstone, this creates an incredibly irritating situation where you have to repeat exactly the same actions just to get the board back to a state where things went wrong, and depending on the mission, it can take anywhere up to 20-30 minutes.

To make matters worse, you can't even skip the banter that happens before the actual fight starts. You can skip the so-called interludes where you just get some story bits, but not the actual conversations that precede a proper mission.

And on top of it all, the game actually wants you to replay its missions. It has a rating system that lets you know how well you did on each mission. It has a checklist of optional objectives you missed. It even grants you some additional experience points for replaying old missions. And then it makes replaying them needlessly annoying.

Speaking of experience points, completing missions grants you some of those, a handful of gold you use to buy new gear, several upgrade gems, and depending on your actions, access to additional equipment.

Your characters' base stats are mostly set in stone, and upon leveling up you can choose one of several skills. And that's pretty much the full depth of Druidstone's roleplaying system. Passive skills are fairly straightforward and make your characters strictly better. Active skills, on the other hand, give you new abilities to use in combat. These can be upgraded in a variety of ways by using the upgrade gems mentioned above. The upgrades can greatly alter your playstyle, and seeing how you can freely redistribute your gems between missions, you have a lot of room to experiment with builds in Druidstone.

Eventually, each character can have up to 12 active abilities, plus whatever additional skills their gear grants them. On top of that, you can find some consumable items during missions, which leaves you with plenty of options when considering your moves. And while some of those skills you can use at will, others can only be used a certain number of times per mission, which I thought was quite a nice touch.

If not for those “gotcha” moments that the game likes to throw at you, its combat system would have been quite enjoyable. As it stands, you should be ready for some frustrations.

Presentation and Story

The game looks and sounds great. The crisp vibrant visuals do a great job of selling the idea of this forest full of magic and mysteries, while the soundtrack gets you in the right mood by alternating between serene fantasy tunes and exciting rock riffs. And in general, it adopts this whimsical tone by assaulting you with cute critters, glowing meadows, and humorous dialogue.

At the same time, Druidstone suffers from a lack of internal consistency. Its whimsical atmosphere is undermined by the characters catching you off guard by swearing now and then. There's also a set of missions that feel like they were created during the game's earlier development days, when it was originally intended to have a different scope and theme, but my assumption is that the developers liked them so much, they decided to leave them in. For this particular set of missions, the game abandons its usual lighthearted tone and becomes much more grim and macabre, which seems out of place in comparison to the rest of the game.

I was also a bit puzzled by the way Druidstone presents its missions, skills and items. The former, for no particular reason, have star ratings. And while it's nothing more than a stylistic choice, at this point I can't help but associate star ratings with mobile games. And seeing how upon mousing over a mission on the overworld map that serves as Druidstone's mission select screen, we get a detailed breakdown of that mission's objectives and their respective rewards, I fail to see the point of those star ratings existing in the first place.