I put a spell on you, and now you're… like, really burnt to a crisp.
Fictorum may have impressed a number of people these past few months thanks to some very handy PR work on sites like Reddit and Imgur. Chances are, if you frequent those sites, namely the sections focused on gaming, you probably came across some gifs of this game. It's the one where a wizard is crafting these powerful spells in order to blast away enemies and even entire buildings. I will freely admit that the only reason I ever became interested in Fictorum is thanks in part to seeing those gifs on a fairly regular basis.

In theory, the idea for the game sounds super cool. You assume the role of this all-powerful wizard that only grows in strength as the story progresses. You move your avatar from location to location on an overhead map view. If you think about this map view as being similar to the map view in FTL it may be easier to wrap your mind around. Each stop provides a bit of story, or a shop, or both. The maps and map nodes are randomly generated, also like FTL. And again like in FTL, you can't stay in one location for too long because a "wall" of near-certain death is on your heels on the map screen. Take too long and that wall catches up to you and an incredibly difficult enemy encounter is almost guaranteed to force your hand into starting over. Many locations even allow you to carry through with an objective to earn some rewards at the risk of injury or death. Of course, many stops will allow you to ignore the danger but you lose out on the potential rewards and also on getting to the real focus of the gameplay.

Areas that include tasks to undertake or enemies to kill are where the real gameplay comes into focus here. Accepting a challenge will whisk you away from the map view and into a moderately sized location. Defeat the target enemies, clear out the huts, or simply find your way to the exit in order to complete your objective to earn a reward. In these areas, a third-person view sits behind your mage. He can form spells in his hands that can be augmented any number of ways. He, using you as a proxy, can make spells more powerful, cast multiple projectiles at once, leave behind an area of effect attack, and many more. Complete those objectives, blast away enemies with giant fireballs, get some loot, move on to the next area and continue to be the hero! Yeah!

Sadly when it comes to the execution, it's honestly not all that great. Sure, there is a bit of a wow factor when you first start up the game. Let's face it, how many games do you know of where you can blow up structures and houses and have pieces break off and fly away "realistically." I say "realistically" because there are a number of interesting ways in which the physics in this game are anything but realistic. The AI feels idiotic at best and frustrating at worst. The environments where the action actually takes place are rather sparse and visually unappealing.

Backing it up for a moment, I will say that I like the idea of more games kind of using the same sort of map mechanics of FTL. I'm talking about the idea that if you don't make forward progress, you will start to face enemy encounters that will be largely unwinnable due to an ever progressing "wall of doom." I'm not sure if FTL was the first to do it, in fact I doubt they were, but it's the most recent game I can think of outside of Fictorum that makes it so you are forced to keep making progress unless you want to fight for your life at every single turn. In addition, I'm also a fan of the fact that many elements of this game are randomized with every new game, including the map layouts. This brings about an added challenge without a feeling of being cheap.

Beyond that? Well, nothing really felt great. Some elements, such as the ability to customize spells and augment various aspects of the spells, felt good. The loot progression felt okay even if it was fairly standard fare stuff for an action-RPG. The soundtrack was present. That's about all I can really say about it. It was just kind of there. The AI loves to charge at you, displaying neither awareness for incoming attacks nor sometimes even the environment. You could see melee warriors running from clear across the map to get to you, even without them having any real reason to know you're even there yet. Spell casters also charge at you, but at least they have the knowledge to stay at a bit of a distance when engaging in battle. Hell, they even know when to teleport out of the way of incoming attacks at times. Remember how I said that the randomized map layout added challenge without being cheap? I wish I could say the same for the enemy engagements. Since multiple enemies like to engage you from nearly all corners of the map at once, battles can turn into unfair, overly difficult fights for your life within mere seconds. They just keep running straight for you and if you can't kill them in time, or you're low on mana, or your blink is on cooldown, then you're going to get hit a lot.

The environments were just downright bland. There was nothing really interesting about any of the various locations and biomes you're dropped into during the action sequences. There may be a few buildings here and there, some houses or wooden guard towers. Maybe there's a spiked wall or some trees that you can blast out of your way. Sometimes there was a loot chest but finding them never really felt rewarding, especially for how much you had to search around in the sparse but large environments. At least the vendors on the overworld map provided a means to acquire new gear without much hassle. Each area was almost exactly the same as the previous area but maybe with a different color scheme or weather condition. Terrain also sometimes included pits that you could not escape from. Within the first 30 minutes of the game, I fell into an inescapable pit while trying to evade enemies. Thankfully, the AI at least had enough sense about them to quickly reign death upon me from above so that I could retry. Often, placement of structures, namely the houses, were scattered about areas without much rhyme or reason. And there really isn't ever much to do in these areas. You either take out a few marked enemies then find the exit, take down a tower or two and then find the exit, or defend a small town… and then find the exit. That's kind of it. The story at least attempts to justify why you're doing any of these things at a specific location but story alone doesn't make the game fun.

Then we get to one of the big selling points of the game: The ability to destroy buildings and structures. We haven't had good, physics based destruction in a game since maybe Red Faction: Guerrilla in 2009 or the recent Just Cause titles. If you're looking for destruction on that sort of scale in Fictorum then I have some bad news for you. The physics system at work seems to be real hit or miss with this game. Sometimes I'll shoot a fireball at a little house and it will barely react. Some chunks will crumble down while the rest holds together rather firmly. I can literally see the seams where the pieces of the remaining structure have already come apart but the darn thing just refuses to tumble down, sometimes even after hitting it with another fireball or five. Other times, I'll shoot the same fireball with the same power at another identical building and pieces just go flying everywhere. I'd go "ooh and ahh" for a moment before returning to the tedium that is the rest of the game.

Believe it or not, there are even bigger issues with the game's physics based destruction. Walls not falling down even after being broken is one thing, but there's a whole lot more that's wrong with this system. As it is physics based, you would be correct in assuming that flying debris can and will kill you if you are struck with enough force. However, I was killed less by flying debris and more by debris I was trying to jump over that had already settled. I would go from full health to dead in an instant far more times than I care to remember because, I assume, the physics interactions between the player model and the debris bugged out and the game thought I was struck at a very high velocity. At least with this particular issue, much of the debris will disappear from the play area after a bit of time. So, if you must destroy a building, I strongly suggest you wait a bit for the debris to be removed before searching the rest of the structure that remains. I have also seen countless pieces of furniture or even entire chunks of buildings still floating in the air without anything below them to support their position.

The worst part about all of this is the fact that you don't really ever need to destroy houses. Enemies are rarely, if ever, struck and killed by debris. The only loot you'll find is the rare healing potion or the even more rare loot chest. No, the only things you "have" to take out in some levels are specific guard towers in order to unlock the exit to return to finish the level and return to the overworld map. If you opt to play on the game's hardcore mode, destroying buildings actually becomes a liability for your entire run. At least with the default mode, if you die to forces beyond your control, you can at least retry an area if you are so inclined.

Priced at just $19.99 (USD), Fictorum is a great idea hindered by extremely poor execution on almost every front. Casting and customizing these powerful, sometimes insane looking spells is neat for the first few times but the novelty quickly wears off when you discover the numerous shortcomings that plague the rest of the game.

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Additional Information
Fictorum (Developed & Published by Scraping Bottom Games)
Starting at $19.99 (USD) for the PC via Steam
Not rated by the ESRB
This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.