While away the hours in this episodic dungeon-crawler.
In recent years games such as Telltale’s The Walking Dead and IO Interactive’s Hitman have had great success with episodic releases. Breaking a game out into digestible chunks is often a great way to create suspense and break up the gameplay, but can this format work for all game genres? Codestalker attempts to find out with the episodic dungeon-crawler Korgan. The prologue is currently available to download for free on Xbox One, but to get a proper taster for this review, we have played both the prologue and the first episode, The Shadow Legion.
With graphics straight out of the early 2000s, Korgan’s prologue is very simplistic. You spawn in a classic dungeon environment with three-character types available to play – the fighter, the mage and the hunter – who you can toggle between at any time. Each episode is made up of a few maps which you can progress through by completing quests. Background information and the plot arch are explained through journal updates as each dungeon quest is completed. These journal updates can be accessed at a click of a button, but otherwise story explanation is largely kept out of the gameplay.
As you would expect for a dungeon-crawler, most of your time is spent battling against hordes of enemies and dying quite a lot. While each character has individual strengths and weaknesses, they all have just three attack modes to choose from. The basic attack deals a small amount of damage but can be used quickly, while a more powerful secondary attack packs a bigger punch but takes longer to hit the mark. After a few fights, each character builds up enough points to unlock a special move, which is the most powerful of their attacks.
In my playthrough, I spent most of the time employing the mage’s abilities. Able to dart around the room at a much faster pace than the other two, the mage is the easiest character to handle. Her more powerful spell freezes enemies in place, making it much easier to freeze enemies and then pepper them with fireballs at range than using either of the other characters. My lazy reliance on the mage was never put into question in the prologue, as all fights posed very little challenge; even the multiple boss fights boiled down to tactics of running round and round a room, stopping to throw missiles from time to time.
However, in The Shadow Legion things do get a little more difficult. With some enemies immune to my mage’s missiles, I was finally forced to be a bit more tactical in combat. Yet, even in trickier sections, I never really felt that I needed to sit up and concentrate. The player isn’t penalised for dying and even in boss fights, getting killed doesn’t remove all your progress. Thus, with the option to let myself die and have all my health restored over buying continuous health potions, my characters very often ended up sacrificed.
Where combat fails to be interesting, unfortunately, so do the quests that structure each level. Their formulaic repetitiveness through both episodes make it difficult to imagine anyone would be left wanting more. Too frequently the quests fall under the same pattern of fetching a number of items or killing a number of specific enemies. With only slight narrative differences (in one level you have to collect the souls of enemies, in another ghost essence) altering these fetch quests, there is very little to motivate the player to move on through the next levels.
Indeed, throughout the prologue and first episode the narrative felt like a total afterthought, and because each narrative update goes straight to a menu-accessible journal rather than appearing within the gameplay, it’s easy to forget it altogether. What keeps you moving between each quest is instead a thin curiosity to see if anything more interesting will materialise, and I was continually disappointed.
Where Korgan does succeed is in its dungeon level design. Each level is its own micro-world, vibrantly animated, with an individual orchestral score to bring it to life. It would have been nice to have the opportunity to learn more about these worlds, but the thinly-layered narrative makes even the most beautiful locations seem sadly hollow.
Korgan’s repetitive gameplay and lack of narrative in these early episodes leaves a question mark over whether a dungeon-crawler can succeed in this format. The Shadow Legion, at least, is an improvement on the prologue, attempting to fill out this fantasy world that so far is sorely lacking. But without a solid foundation, some players may not move past the prologue at all. Perhaps at this stage Korgan is still finding its feet, but if the later episodes do not improve on the first two, it is itself in danger of falling into the shadows.
Kate has been gaming since she could control a mouse. In addition to having a penchant for indie games, Kate had a World of Warcraft account when she was far too young, and has a weakness for any game with ‘RPG’ in the description.