Portal Knights: Crafting fun we dig as much as Minecraft

If you’re a small game designer, the ludicrously successful Minecraft must look like the prefect coattail to ride. Sub-par, square-ish graphics that are inexpensive to produce. Next-to-no structure, sandbox gameplay that requires no scripting and AI. There are plenty of pretenders to the blocky throne, but few offer as fresh a take as this.

Portal Knights takes the blueprint and gives it more of what we always wished Minecraft had: deeper combat and a series of quests that give us a greater sense of purpose. Don’t go in expecting BioWare level writing to these errands, however, as more often than not you’re tasked with murdering a shopping list full of enemies, or delivering resources to villagers. Useless, slack bastards that they are.

Your job, as a professional acquirer of crap, will push you further out into the frontier of dozens of randomly generated islands. These are wonderfully diverse biomes whose beauty we’d often pause to appreciate, right before we got down to razing everything to the ground with our mining equipment and a lust for better crafted gear and swankier-built houses.

We didn’t think it would, but that greedy Dwarven-esque lifestyle frequently fell to the wayside in favour of combat. From the get go you select from the classes of Warrior, Mage, or Ranger, and enemy encounters in the overworld are quite frequent. Upside: slaughtering things rivals digging for resource profits.

Plus, murder equals XP and the building of your fairly basic collection of stats. Before long, each of the skillsets in each class feels more and more unique. Having a diverse band of players in two-person split co-op (4 online) feels cooler than Minecraft’s “everybody is a reskinned Steve” solution.

As the title suggests, portals play a large role in this game. Most enemies you murder will spew out coloured crystal shards. Take these to one of the well-hidden stone portals on your current island, arrange them in a set way, and you’ll create a doorway to another island and yet more swashbuckling adventures.

In the early stages of the piece, a recipe to ride this inter-dimensional public transport is low requirement stuff. Later though you’re asked to find a veritable rainbow of crystal colours, and what you can source is basically at the mercy of the RNGesus. At this point, Portal Knights stops respecting your spare time and stalls.

505 Games also fouls up boss battles. On the one hand, it’s a thrill to have to stock up on items and take on a gargantuan beast (especially as these encounters are designed to favour coordinated groups of players). Unfortunately, there’s only, like, three of them. Hopefully that can be fixed via free updates. If so, this is priced right and could totally go from Minecraft wannabe to Minecraft equal.

Score: 8/10

 

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