Operencia: The Stolen Sun Review – Xbox One / PC

It’s not often that we see a non-pinball game come out of Zen Studios, so when these guys traded in their pinball wizard for an actual wizard I just had to check it out. Operencia: The Stolen Sun is a blast from the past when it comes to classic dungeon-crawling RPG’s. It was only a few minutes into the game when I started having flashbacks to 1992 and Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss with its classic grid-style movement and turn-based combat infused with a heavy dose of current-gen graphics.

Inspired by Central European mythology, Operencia: The Stolen Sun tells the tale of Napkiraly, the Sun King who has been abducted by an unknown force, casting the lands of Operencia into darkness. After a 20-30 minute tutorial prologue where you play as established characters you will be allowed to create your own hero who will join forces with a variety of other scripted characters to form a party of heroes that will attempt to save the world…classic stuff.Character creation is by-the-numbers role-playing, giving you choices of male or female, and three classes; hunter, fighter, and mage. One clever element is picking your character’s origin which awards various stat bonuses in additional to the standard “rolling your character” where you distribute a set amount of points across your classic D&D attributes to tailor your character to your own playstyle. While you only get to create one character there are seven other memorable characters that will swap in and out of your party, each offering their own personality and combat abilities.

A lot of gamers (including myself) will have to overcome a few gameplay quirks that were staples of gaming in the 90’s; the most egregious being the grid-based map design. As a former DM and creator of my own D&D adventures I’m no stranger to graph paper, but I was literally stunned to see Operencia: The Stolen Sun actually being constructed using this method. As you explore the often-stunning 3D environments of the game the mini-map slowly reveals the tiny squares that make up its 2D floorplan. Where things get really wonky is that while you have full analog control over the camera view of your character you are only permitted to actually move in only four directions. This restrictive movement doesn’t hurt the game – in fact I would argue it helps seal its retro-authenticity – and you can quickly learn to overcome the quirky movement by generally facing forward and side-strafing. You can still spin the camera smoothly and even interact with the environment at an angle; only your movement is restricted.For those wanting to go truly “old-school” you can turn on Cartographer mode and map out the levels yourself – graph paper not included, or if you want to ramp up the game difficulty you can limit your saves or even activate permadeath where you have to finish the entire game without dying. Do it…I dare you.  These options provide a nice opportunity to scale the difficulty to a larger target audience.

The turn-based combat in Operencia is a classic throwback to the genre, featuring a scrolling list of party and monster icons noting the order of attack so you can prepare to attack or defend as needed. The player has full control over the entire party allowing you to create coordinated attacks, heal or buff others, poison enemies, or assume a protective stance to minimize damage. The game also takes into account range, with enemies positioned near, middle, and far, so you also have to factor in using the right weapon for each enemy. If you only have enemies in the far range and your guy only has a sword you might want to use their turn for defense or perhaps taunt the enemy to draw their fire. Conversely, your archer should be targeting that back row and working their way forward. I was pleasantly surprised just how tactical the combat got in this game even to the point of sneaking up on enemies to get that combat initiative.While not on the scale of Diablo you will acquire a lot of loot in Operencia and I was pleased with how they handled the inventory system. All items are dropped into a party-wide inventory grid and you can pick an item then pick a character to see how that item will affect their various stats and abilities. The intuitive green is good and red is bad modifier numbers make it simple to see who benefits most for each item, and since you are responsible for the welfare of the entire party it seldom pays to be greedy and keep all the good stuff for your primary character.

Most of the game is exploration and combat with scattered puzzles and level-ending boss fights. The bosses were actually quite cool in this game, requiring you to think and play using all your characters’ abilities in a complementary way. I did enjoy the save system that allows you to save your game at any campfire or fire pit as long as you have firewood, which you can find and collect by exploring the levels and occasionally smashing wooden items like crates and barrels.Powered by Unreal Engine 4; the presentation for Operencia: The Stolen Sun is a mix of gorgeous storybook art and high-quality 3D game visuals that depict a wide variety of environments, both indoors and outside, day and night, spread across 13 remarkable levels. The game makes the most of vibrant colors, lighting, shadows, and super-creative creature designs for the 50+ enemy types found in the game. Special effects are flashy and impressive in combat with weapons and spells all having their own unique flair about them. Even environmental effects like exploring underwater are quite convincing.

Conversations are played out one sentence at a time requiring a button-press to advance while static character portraits on either side show who is speaking. One thing I really appreciated is the game keeps a complete transcript of all dialogue, so you can refer back if needed. The voice acting was all over the place. The dialogue and interactions during the prologue were painfully bad, but once you create your character and get into the main game things turned around and I was actually pleased with the acting. I was playing a female hunter who had a nice voice and sassy delivery style to a lot of her interactions with comrades. The narrator has a great voice making you feel like you’re listening to a bedtime story. Music is fantastic all around with an epic orchestral score composed by Arthur Grósz that drives the action during combat and sets the mood during exploration or exposition. Sound effects for environments as well as all the real-time sounds associated with physical and magical combat were spot on.Operencia: The Stolen Sun is currently available for Xbox One and PC. The game is on Xbox Game Pass so subscribers to that service can play for free, and since the game supports Play Anywhere you can also play on PC. I tested the game on both Xbox and PC and there was virtually no performance or quality issues with either. The two systems are basically identical, although it was interesting to see the Xbox version supports keyboard and mouse and even mouse-only. Non-Xbox owners who want to play on PC will have to get their copy on the Epic game store or wait until 2020 before it comes to Steam, or you can always grab a copy from the Windows store.

I really enjoyed Operencia: The Stolen Sun a lot more than I thought I would. I was ready to dismiss this as yet another RPG dungeon crawler to get tossed on the heap with all the rest, but once you get past the astonishingly bad voice acting of the first 20 minutes and dive into the quality core content of the game, you’ll find a stunningly beautiful and tactically challenging RPG game loaded with fantastical storytelling and exotic locations; perfect for gamers of all ages and skill levels.

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