Fictorum is developed by Scraping Bottom Games, an indie studio that successfully raised just under $30,000 in a Kickstarter campaign.
The game, a Rogue-lite, first showed up on Reddit, described as a project developed by its creators in their spare time, but since everybody loves blowing up things – and that's a big part of this game – it managed to gain enough attention to warrant a full-fledged game.
Kickstarter backers have had access to the game's beta for months at this point, and it seems that their feedback has helped the developer quite a bit with balancing the game as well as fixing any quirky bugs. In my entire time playing the game, I never encountered any game-breaking bugs, except for a few humorous ones.
In this review, we discover how Fictorum, despite having a destructible environment as its main attraction, creatively manages to steer away from the tag of a ‘piñata simulator' towards something that has depth, and is well thought-out, albeit with a few flaws that hinder it from realizing its full potential.
Fictorum uses Unreal Engine 4 – in fact, the game came about as a result of Epic distributing the engine for free – and manages to perform quite well considering what it’s doing; the game must process physics calculations for tens if not hundreds of objects when a pile of debris is crashing down, after all.
I played the game with all the graphical options turned up to their 'Epic' setting at a resolution of 1366 x 768, with the field of view set at 80 (yes there's a FoV slider).
Indeed, for the most part, the game manages to perform flawlessly with these settings – aside from the occasional dip in frame rate while decimating a village, I get a constant sixty frames per second.
However, the performance does drop as you progress through the campaign and larger levels with more enemies are loaded; as a result, the frame rate may be acceptable early on in the campaign, but not near the end of it. There are a few issues with the game as well, mostly coming down to technological limitations.
As evident by the GIF, the game is quite quick to despawn the wreckage of a building even while the player is still looking at it. I confirmed with the developer that this is indeed an intended behavior, and is defined by a set timer.
Aside from the occasional dip in frame rate while decimating a village, I get a constant sixty frames per second.
The game also takes a minute or two to load every time it is launched – it even says so on its loading screen. However, all subsequent levels load in an instant. It’s a minor complaint, and one which can be easily ignored, but it is worth mentioning.
Here are the specifications of the PC I played this game on:
- Display: 19.8” non-touch, 1366x768 resolution
- OS: Windows 10 Version 1703 (64-bit)
- Processor: Core i7 – 2600K @ 3.40GHz
- RAM: 8GB DDR3 1333 MHz
- GPU: Nvidia GTX 680 with 2GB DDR5 VRAM
AI, Camera, and Controls
Fictorum, by default, is a third-person game, but it does offer a first-person view as an option to be enabled within its gameplay settings. Unfortunately, while it is perfectly playable with the first person view, it's not necessarily ideal, and that's because of the game's AI.
Simply put, the enemies in this game are not very smart. It seems that the AI has been programmed to do but one thing: run towards you as fast as it can; most enemies carry melee weapons, so it does make sense, but there is not even a hint of an attempt at flanking or anything remotely intelligent.
It seems that the AI has been programmed to do but one thing: run towards you as fast as it can.
The archers will stay put and hilariously fire their puny arrows towards your general direction – until they die; while enemies with melee weapons hopelessly try to outwit your god-powers with their spades. There will be the occasional enemy that knows enough magic to make your life difficult, but they still behave quite the same as the typical archer.
Fictorum's difficulty, therefore, comes not from strong enemies, but from the sheer number of them; that's fine in third-person, but quickly becomes a problem when you are limited by the first-person view, as showcased in this accidentally humorous example:
As for the controls, the game feels excellent to play with the default keyboard and mouse control scheme, at least to my right-handed self. There's also extensive support for controllers, despite the developer not having any plans to launch the game for any of the consoles; I only tried this with an Xbox One controller and was pleasantly surprised with the experience.
Fictorum has managed to create an incredibly thoughtful tale spanning centuries in order to explain its very strange world, known as the Realm. It promises of great wizards and magical orders competing with each other to gain supremacy and control over the Realm.
In this madness, an elite of the order known as the Fictorum blankets the Realm in Miasma, descending a choking fog that kills millions and corrupts those who survive, turning them into creatures hungry only for blood; for this, all who are part of the Fictorum's order are hunted down and executed, except for the few who manage to survive.
In the world of Fictorum, the only places that remain safe from the deadly Miasma are the mountain tops, where the empire that calls itself the Inquisition has built portals – called nexuses – to ensure a safe way of travel for what remains of humanity.
Fictorum's lore has the potential of becoming much more than what it currently is; I hope that it does.A story is incomplete without a purpose, and this one is no exception. It's clear that the order of Fictorum does not adhere to the version of good that you and I may subscribe to, yet you play as the last of its surviving wizards. The game begins its journey right after you witness the execution of everyone you knew your entire life as they are captured and killed by the Inquisition. You, however, manage to survive your execution, and now have one purpose: gain revenge for what the Inquisition has done.
It's an astonishingly mature lore, and it certainly cannot be accused of being black-and-white. Unfortunately, for reasons I cannot fathom, this lore is not explained in the game and is rather kept aside to be detailed on the game's official wiki. This, I think, is a lost opportunity and perhaps even a disservice to the lore's depth. I highly recommend reading the entirety of this lore over on its wiki page before playing the game.
Fictorum's lore has the potential of becoming much more than what it currently is; I hope that it does, simply because of the dilemma it gives to the player: are you playing for the good side, or does it just not matter anymore?
Fictorum is a game that’s full of ideas – some borrowed, some new; it’s a Rogue-lite by genre, but the game tries not to be too harsh on new players.
Starting a new game first requires you to pick a loadout, which is simply an initial set of Spells that you can choose to begin your journey with, but they can be changed and replaced at any point during the campaign. There is an option to customize your character's looks, but the game doesn't offer much to customize; you can change the color of your skin and individual parts of the clothing, as well as your magic-glowy-hand but that's about it – there are a million choices of color, though.
A campaign begins with a procedurally generated map full of mountains surrounded by the deadly fog caused by the Miasma; in this FTL-esque world, you travel to these points on the map to explore and progress in its strangely woven adventures, for a total of eight chapters.
As you travel to a mountain, the game prompts you with a story about that place; not every mountain will present a battle – many will simply offer multiple-choice prompts to progress the story of your campaign. At the end of each encounter, the game may reward you with items, Spells, Scrolls, or Essence, depending on your choices.
If, however, you are presented with a battle, the game loads you into a level; while the expansive map is procedural, the levels themselves are not. There's a decent amount of variety between levels – some are snowy, some are lush, while a few are dry and dusty. However, because of the limited pool of levels, repetition is inevitable; different enemies may spawn at different locations in a level, but its design will always remain static, with all the buildings in their place, as if a set.
You can be strategic and only destroy what comes in your way, or you can set ablaze an entire village, destroying every structure in sight. The latter is certainly more fun, but the game does a decent job incentivizing the former as well.
In a level, the goal is to go through the 'Nexus', but there's a tiny obstacle in the way: you need to destroy the shield protecting said Nexus, which is emanating from orbs of energy scattered around the level, typically atop of towers and lookouts. This opens up an interesting opportunity; you can be strategic and only destroy what comes in your way, or you can set ablaze an entire village, destroying every structure in sight. The latter is certainly more fun, but the game does a decent job incentivizing the former as well.
Inside every building is loot – this could be better armor, new Spells, new Scrolls, or Essence. Essence is, essentially, the game’s currency. It can be used to purchase new items, imbue rings (more on that later), or as an expensive way to regenerate some health. If a building is destroyed with loot or Spells inside it, you are rewarded with Essence equivalent of the item’s value.
If you step through the nexus and finish a level, you may travel to a trader on the map – marked with a bright white spot atop a mountain – and use the hard-gained Essence to purchase items or Spells of your liking. You must, however, be lucky enough to find a trader with the items that you are looking for; in short, exploring buildings in a level without destroying them (or rather, the loot inside them) ensures far better progression, as items are gained in plenty, out of which the redundant and useless can be sold for Essence.
However, if you are faced with the unfortunate event of death during a battle, you are given a choice to “rewrite history,” which essentially puts you back into the map, whereon you may attempt the same level again or try your hand elsewhere. This is unless you enable what the game calls “Hardcore Mode,” which makes death permanent, bringing an end to your campaign upon defeat.
It's a tough balance, and one that I find relies incredibly upon the player's patience.
I find that Fictorum's attraction is its destructible environment, yet it's also its dilemma. If I use my powerful Spells as I desire, I will cause insurmountable destruction – but that will void me of all loot, leaving it to luck for me to find the items that I might have otherwise appreciated. It's a tough balance, and one that I find relies incredibly upon the player's patience.
Runes, Spells, and Shaping
This is where I believe Scraping Bottom Games spent most of its time and effort, aside from building the game's destructible environments.
Fictorum offers dozens of unique Spells that are all incredibly powerful, and yet there isn't a single one that feels like the be-all and end-all of all Spells; discovering a new Spell leaves you with joyful glee, rather than the dread of exasperation.
I could rain a barrage of meteors upon my enemies, or perhaps strike them with lightning. If that's not quick enough, I could ignite them with a blaze and then douse their pain with an iceberg right under their gaze. The game lets me execute these Spells in quick succession, with the only limitation being my limited pool of Mana. Additionally, the game also has Scrolls that let you slow down time among various other things, while simultaneously casting Spells – more on that in a moment.
The insane variety of Spells is impressive, but there's much more depth here; Runes, which can be found as loot while playing the game, can enhance a Spell. For example, if you find a multi-shot Rune, you can equip it with the Fireball Spell to spit not one but two (or even more) fireballs at the same time. There are a dozen unique Runes, but only three can be equipped on a Spell at a time.
It's possible to equip a Rune with almost any Spell, except for a certain few; the game distinguishes between Runes with four categories: Volcanic, Glacial, Lodic, and Zorric. As an example, if a Rune is Zorric, it can be equipped with any Spell, but if it's Volcanic, it can only be equipped with a fire-based Spell.
That's all great, but equipping a Rune won't do any good by itself – you must shape a Spell before casting it, to benefit from an equipped Rune. This is, perhaps, one of Fictorum's most unique mechanics.
Spell shaping is an incredibly versatile mechanic that, frankly, is what makes this game as fun as it is.
Spell shaping is a big part of the game, and it allows you to precisely determine how much of an effect a Rune has on your Spell; if you want a barrage of fireballs, shape the Spell more towards multi-shot and get three or more fireballs, rather than the default of one. If you want them to be more explosive, shape the Spell towards the high explosive rune, and enjoy the fireworks. Interestingly, the game allows you to shape a Spell in all three directions, utilizing all runes to their maximum ability.
This raises an obvious concern: if it's possible to shape a Spell towards every Rune with maximum power, why would one not do it all the time? Fictorum fixes this with an easy solution: a second spent shaping the Spell, is a second costing considerable Mana.
Fictorum demands speed and quick reaction, and that's not something I expected from it; you must be quick to shape your spell to cast it, otherwise, you are simply wasting your precious Mana. This also requires you to think quickly – in the heat of a battle, you must not only decide what spell you want to use, but also how you want to shape it.
A second spent shaping the Spell, is a second costing considerable Mana.
Spell shaping is an incredibly versatile mechanic that, frankly, is what makes this game as fun as it is. Here is a mechanic that puts you in the wizard's shoes – you are, yourself, shaping the Spell before casting it and causing mayhem with it. This, combined with the destructible environments, is what makes you feel all-powerful, despite the constraints put on by other game elements.
Inventory, Scrolls, and Imbuing
As with every game of this genre, Fictorum also gives players an inventory to manage; if an inventory is full, excess loot is discarded when players move to the next level. I found managing my inventory a tedious process; there appears to be no way to increase the inventory size, and while there are slots aplenty, they can run out quite quickly.
I found managing my inventory a tedious process.
However, the game offers a few things to make your journey as a wizard slightly less aggravating, such as Scrolls, and the ability to imbue them onto a ring, at the cost of a few Essence.
Scrolls share many similarities with Spells, but they aren't quite the same; while a Spell demands that you cast it with all your attention, a Scroll merely provides you with a passive or active ability.
The addition of Scrolls is something I didn't realize I needed until I discovered its possibilities.
If a ring is imbued with a Scroll, its ability appears in an extra slot beside the main equip-bar; this is important, as you only have four slots in the equip-bar, and it's best to use them for powerful Spells. Since your character is wearing two rings – one in each hand – doing this can free up to two slots, giving a massive boon to your skills as a wizard.
Fictorum offers a variety of Scrolls; for example, there's a Scroll that lets you create a wall of translucent magical rocks, that can be used as cover. There's also one that essentially lets you conjure the game's equivalent of a lightsaber – it's called a SpellBlade, and the only thing not making it a lightsaber is a lack of the iconic sounds it's supposed to make.
This means that in Fictorum, you can play as a Jedi from Star Wars, but with magical god-powers. However, let's not allow that to cloud our judgment; here's a GIF:
The addition of Scrolls is something I didn't realize I needed until I discovered its possibilities. As is evident by the GIF, being able to cast a Spell while using a Scroll's ability is just enough to enhance your god-like experience. Yet, it's still not overpowered – by the time you collect these items, you are already drowning in hordes of enemies.
Magic, by definition, is meant to define an unknown quantity: it is impossible to judge a wizard’s strength, after all, it’s backed by the unexplainable. Yet, in most games, wizards and magicians are bogged down by artificial limitations in an attempt to balance their powers against their foes; this balance is necessary – infinite power is a bore – but in Fictorum, players wield the elemental powers in a way that feels satisfying.
If you don’t know what you are doing, Fictorum can be fun; if you do, then it is downright addicting.
If you don’t know what you are doing, Fictorum can be fun; if you do, then it is downright addicting. It’s a game that invites you to learn its intricacies, but you may not want to, and that’s fine; however, if you do go through the effort, you may turn into a mage-god, capable of delivering menacing destruction at a whim.
Its flaws – of which there are plenty – are an annoyance, but they don't hinder the experience all that much.
Scraping Bottom Games intends to support the game after its release with plenty of updates; there are plans for adding mod support, so players can create their own levels and expand the replayability; a client for macOS and Linux is also in the pipeline.
In the end, it's a game that's full of ideas – some borrowed, some new – but it doesn't get the mix quite as perfect as I had hoped. It's worth its asking price, but it could have been more.
Neowin was provided with a copy to review this game. This review is representative of the game's Press Build v1.0.3.
Fictorum comes out on 9th August, at the price of $19.99, £14.99, and €19.99, available for purchase at these stores after launch:
Don't forget to follow us @NeowinGaming on Twitter to keep up to date with our gaming coverage!