Games with Gold: Earthlock: Festival of Magic - Reviewed

Kickstarter is often a mixed bag when it comes to game development, but when a good project comes into fruition, the crowd funding platform can really shine. Earthlock is a game tapping into the now somewhat niche market of turn-based RPGs and has some genuinely interesting ideas to contribute to the space as a whole. The game is set in a fantasy world and stars a cast of characters, but how does it all hold up? Today, The Movie Sleuth takes a look at this $30 crowd-funded indie title, completely spoiler free as always.

It’s worth noting that for the month of September the game is free to all Xbox Live subscribers. It was a deal the developers happily took to help fund their next two games and build an audience. I really had no expectations going into the game seeing as I don’t get many turn-based games outside of the Pokemon franchise. The first thing I noticed was the lovely art style, partially thanks to the concept art being used in loading screens. It prepared me for my foray into this fantasy world. It was nice to see that the transfer from 2D art to 3D models was done well, but this was also where I first noticed the game’s little cracks.

It was a bit jarring to see such stilted animation, from the movement of the characters in the world to the dialogue scenes where characters kind of just shift around or move an arm. Deeper into the game I’d notice little things like odd health bar overlap, or even my cursor disappearing off screen for enemies that were high up. I was able to put this in the back of my mind as I played, because the overall aesthetic was nice. I think my favorite visual element was how the camera will shift perspective as you run through a level, it drives home that the genre has changed a bit from the strict top down movement of days old. The sound design in the game is probably the biggest bummer here. I quickly found myself muting the looping music and just throwing on a Pandora radio station I enjoyed.

I can’t really blame that Goblin for listening to his own music

The real magic in Earthlock is all of the little mechanics the player gets to fiddle around with. The first thing the console players will notice is a fairly good use of the controller space. The game opts for an ability system where everything is mapped to a face-button which the player can swap around. It’s a small quality of life thing that helps speed up game play just a smidgen as it works the combat down to a bit of muscle memory. Each character has an alternate stance with a different ability set which takes a turn to swap to so you have to be a bit conscientious about each character’s stance depending on play style.

The level up system is rather unique in its own right. Character stats passively increase, but it adds another layer to this. Each character has a Talent Map that puts a lot of progression into the player’s hands, and there are three types of talents in the game: stat boosts, new abilities, and perks. The characters in the game have a set amount of each of these spaces to be unlocked, and every talent space unlocked needs to be connected to a previous one. Once a space is unlocked, it can’t be removed, but if you don’t like that specific talent on the character, you can swap it for another of the same type. This is also bundled with a crafting system for these talents, provided you have a recipe and the required materials. This approach to leveling is really satisfying, because so much is placed in the player’s hands.

The real break out mechanic here is the bond system. A shared special meter of sorts that levels with pairs of characters. The special abilities themselves are dependent on the individual characters, but each pairing grants various passive buffs. It’s an interesting design choice that adds more personal taste into the depth of the combat system.

The dialogue is somewhat refreshing at times

The world features set spawn points for all enemies, making it possible to run away from enemies for an easier fight, or to bait more for a tasty XP bonus. All the save points are set as well, often in convenient places. This is great, given that most of the boss battles will require the player to backtrack and grind to be beaten which is something I found a little annoying in a game that’s otherwise great at constantly pulling you forward. There’s generally little hand holding as it expects players to take risks and actually read the damn journal they give you. The gardening system for harvesting raw materials is surprisingly enjoyable and provides a nice break away from the battling.

It was easy to lose 15 hours to the game, which put me at about only half of the way through. The gameplay is engrossing, and while the writing and story are fairly standard fare, it’s hard not to fall in love with the characters utilized throughout your journey. It’s not the most polished stone. Nonetheless, I found this little indie game to definitely be a gem. Any fans of turn-based RPG games should absolutely check this title out given its price and availability as a Gold title.

- Vanyel


Developer: Snowcastle Games
Publisher: Snowcastle Games
Platforms: Xbox One, Playstation 4, Wii U, PC, Mac, Linux
Release Date: September 1st, 2016
Reviewer’s Platform: Xbox One