Reviewed: April 30, 2008
Released: April 11, 2008
When it comes to naming a game, I have seen some real weird ones. However when I first laid eyes on Nobilis and Ascaronís newest title Hard to Be a God, I was rather intrigued. At first glance at the title you may think that this name would better suited for a book than a game. Well, thatís because it is.
Hard to Be a God is based on the novel written by the Russian authors Arkady and Boris Strugatsky back in 1964. Both this new PC title and the novel are set in the Noon Universe that the brothers created.
Before I get to the good part of this review, I will explain the back-story a little since there is no introduction at all when you start. There are two main planets in this hack & slash RPG title, Earth and its alternate planet (of sorts) Arkanar. At one time these two planets were very similar, if not identical, maintaining a friendly and rather peaceful existence with each other for centuries.
However due to rising differences the two planets went to war and eventually went their own separate ways after the war. Earth prospered and went the way of technology, much like our world today, while Arkanar remained back in the medieval ages, stagnated and rather mysterious.
Hard to Be a Godís interface is pretty standard fare as most RPGs go. This isnít really anything special to go into huge detail about, but I will touch over one aspect seen on the HUD. The HUD has everything youíve already seen in other RPGs with the exception of the Game Time bar. Since the time doesnít stand still, this clock shows the progression of minutes and hours. One of the cool things about Hard to Be a God is that it features a night/day system, which directly relates to the Game Time bar.
You do have access to a mini-map and full map during your adventure in Arkanar. Both maps are a stylized version of the area or location which you currently inhabiting. By pressing ďMĒ in the keyboard you can switch from the mini-map to the full map.
You can find everything you need from your characterĎs position, to your mission objective, to even place where you can buy horses. I will forewarn you that the game is not paused when you open up the map. You can and will get attacked by any enemies and animals in the area.
The Game Time is handy to use because there are certain quests that require you to be at the right place at the right time. For example, a contact you may have will not talk to you in broad daylight, but he will talk to you later on that night in a secret meeting place. This kind of gameplay mechanic reminds me of Majoraís Mask on my beloved N64.
Character building and improvement are again pretty standard. You can gain experience (or XP) by killing animals and hostile enemies and by completing quests. When you have accumulated enough XP, you will automatically level up and gain skill points to use to strengthen your character in one of two categories, combative and non-combative.
Combat skills that you can improve range from light to heavy and even ranged weapons. By raising any of these attacks skills you will ultimately unlock more super attacks, which can be used by pressing the right mouse button. Raising the attack skill on ranged weapons will not only raise the hit chance (accuracy) but also the ability to perform critical hits.
There are also four other skills that you have access to and these fall under the non-combative skills. Three of these are actually directly related to combat, but the forth will help you out when you are not fighting. The four skills are Diplomacy, Medicine, Dexterity and Stamina.
By improving the Diplomacy skill you will gain access to some answers in a conversation once you reach a certain level in this category. For instance, have you ever felt that you were getting totally shafted by the reward that you receive for finishing a highly difficult mission? Sure you have, Iím pretty sure that every gamer has felt this way one time or another. Well in Hard to Be a God, you have the chance to get what you think you deserve for those quests. However there are some stipulations to this rule. On certain quests you must be at a certain level, say level 6, to ask for more. This was a pretty cool feature if you ask me.
By raising your Medicine skill, you increase the effectiveness of any potions you use which in turn increase the number of Hit Points (HP) restored. When you raise your Dexterity it affects the main characterís amount of stamina. The stamina amount drains when you perform attack and super attacks. By increasing the Dexterity, you lessen the amount of stamina it takes to pull off your attacks thus giving you more stamina.
And last but not least is the Stamina skill. Oddly enough this has nothing to do with your stamina, but rather your health. The higher the stamina level, the more health you have.
Now that Iíve gotten all the technical stuff out of the way we move onto combat. Combat is initiated at anytime by your enemies, human or not or yourself. To start fighting you must hit the TAB key to unsheathe your weapon. From there you can pull off attacks by clicking the left or right mouse buttons. Be careful though when youíre fighting as you can run out of stamina and literally become a sitting duck to attacks.
Actually literally everything that is inflicted on you takes some of your stamina. If you are not using a shield you are obviously vulnerable to arrow and blots, even if you are in block mode. Also when you are using a shield you will be able to deflect these shots, but at the cost of stamina. Once again when the stamina bar is empty the shots get through.
Fighting your enemies is actually quite easy once you get used to it. The main thing to keep in mind is that you pretty much have to be facing your opponent(s) in order to hit them. Your character does however have swing arc that is roughly about 30ļ, so it isnít always necessary to be looking right at you foes. One the same note, using a super attack will wield a much wider attack arc and you will more than likely hit several foes that are near you.
There are even plenty of opportunities to attack enemies while mounted on a horse. This does require a far bit of timing as you must press the attack button well in advance of your target or you will miss him entirely. This was a nice change of pace and again reminded me of horse combat in games like Zelda.
You have several different weapons at your disposal throughout your adventure. Hard to Be a God features two main types of weapons, melee and ranged. Your melee weapons can range from clubs to sword to two handed axes. These all fall under the three classes, light medium and heavy.
Your ranged weapons constrict of bows and crossbow, but you later get access to modified crossbows, scorchers, needle guns and grenade launchers. Ah Grenade Launchers, you ask. I see I got your attention.
Hard to Be a God is at first what appears to be a medieval title which it is, but you eventually find out that it is so much more than just a swords and crossbows title. This is perhaps why I like this title so much.
Besides all the fighting one of my favorite things about Hard to Be a God, is the ability to assume different roles to suit your current situation. But itís not as easy as it seems. There are 6 different roles that you can assume: Don, Thief, Monk, Grey, Bandit and FRA Citizen. Your default role is that of a mercenary. To assume any of these roles you must find and equip a complete set of clothes (hat, heavy armor, light armor, trousers, footwear and cloak) to become that role.
The tricky part is that if you do not have enough clothing of a particular role equipped you will be ignored or attacked on site. Not only that, Hard to Be a God pulls the old Morrowind: Bloodmoon act when it comes to switching roles. You cannot change roles while in the presence of other people. You have to go off in a unpopulated area change and go back to continue on with your objective. This was a very nice touch.
NPC (or Non-Playable Character) interaction is pretty much limited to quests and shopping for needed supplies. However keep in mind that hostile NPCs will not talk to you and certain NPC will only talk to you if you are in a certain role. Always look for subtle clues by other NPC on when you need to change roles. Often times the clothes you need are nearby.
There were however a few glitches or bugs that reared their ugly heads. One would be that sometimes the map would not show up and sometimes weapons would be missing or invisible. The other major pain was that the game would crash occasionally in certain locations when saving.
Okay graphically, Hard to Be a God is no World of Warcraft, but it holds a certain quality to it that I found appealing. The character models are well done and the environments are very nicely done as well. The one thing that I liked was the fade away effect when you entered forested areas. This ensured that you had a nearly unobstructed view of the ground especially when you fighting. The water effects are also quite nice and little things like the flames of the fires and the subtle movement of trees and plants.
The insides of the buildings and homes are often bare, sometimes containing a chair or a few chests to distinguish itself from its neighbor. Often times these homes felt thrown in at the last minute.
The sounds of Hard to Be a God vary from the soothing music to the battle cries to the sounds of your animal enemies. While you are walking or riding through the different locals, you can hear occasional wolves, lizards and birds.
The fighting cries are decent and not overly forced. The voice acting as well is better than most of the titles that Iíve seen to come across. Most of the speaking is done by other important characters. The main character doesnít talk at all, but in text instead.
The score for this title is both calming and adventurous. There are 3 main music tunes that can be heard while you are wandering around the country side and these are very well done. The moment that you are about to fight the music changes to an upbeat tune and fades back to the calming tune after the fight.
Hard to Be a God will take a far bit of time to complete. Part of this is due to the unforgiving deaths that you will incur throughout your adventure. If you die you are required to start over from your latest save point, so I highly suggest saving often. Hard to Be a God retails for $30 dollars and is a fair price for this title.
All in all, I found Hard to Be a God very intriguing with its deep story and several plot twists. The story leaves you in the dark start off the bat and slowly reveals the intricate details. The nicely designed environments are pleasant and the music is quite nice. If you are looking for a different change of pace, then I recommend picking up Hard to Be a God.