Operencia: The Stolen Sun is a beautifully crafted old-school dungeon crawler based loosely on Eastern European folklore. It originally released on the PC and Xbox before making its way on to the other consoles (we played it on PS4).
The Zen Studios RPG starts off with a prologue that tells the story of King Atilla (maybe based on Atilla the Hun?) and a couple of other characters on a quest to close a portal to the underworld. He brings peace to the land by defeating a dragon and all is well with the land of Operencia. But nothing good lasts forever, which is why after his death, peace is threatened once more as the portal reopens and evil spills forth. A hero is needed.
After completing the prologue, the first task is to set the difficulty parameters of the game. Rather than choosing easy, medium or hard, it allows you to construct a more tailored experience, and we really appreciated this design choice. You can choose whether the map automatically marks locations for you or not, and you can even disable the map should you prefer (we didn't). You can also choose whether your progress is autosaved, or whether you can only save at checkpoints in the form of campfires. There's also a permadeath option and you say how hard your enemies are. While giving players a lot of freedom it also means that entry-level players, those not looking for too much of a challenge, can pick this up with ease.
The next step along the way is to choose a character based on certain classes. They are pretty standard for the genre and come in the form of Warrior, Hunter or Mage. Anyone who has played a dungeon crawler or a fantasy RPG like The Elder Scrolls will be right at home. The Warrior has more hit points and uses hand-to-hand weapons; the Hunter is fast; the Mage, as the name implies, uses magic. And that's about it. After that you design the look of your character, assign a few spare attribute-points to areas that you think might need it, and then off you trundle - it's all pretty standard RPG stuff, to be honest.
The first thing you have to get to grips with is the control scheme. It looks and feels like a first-person RPG like The Elder Scrolls (in fact, the opening scene very much reminded us of our time in Morrowind). The issue, if you can call it that, is that this is a different type of game. What do we mean? Well, here the movement system is grid-based. The mini-map in the bottom left of the screen shows you all of your options in terms of movement. You control your character with the left analogue stick as you can only move left, right, forwards and backwards. There were no diagonal movements. You do have the option to view the grid, but it didn't help us much.
It felt like you had constant control of the rook in chess, and we found ourselves trying to control the queen. There would be something to our diagonal-right, and we'd move our view with the right stick, push forward but nothing - it constantly felt like we were stuck on something. While it did get easier over time, at no point did this system feel intuitive to us and it was obvious from the get-go that it was designed to replicate a very specific style of play. It's not a design flaw - it's the main feature of the game and if you're after a traditional dungeon crawling experience you'll probably love the old-school approach - but it's going to be the thing that divides opinion about the game, and if you're after a more free-flowing RPG experience then the movement system here needs careful consideration.
The next thing we need to address is the battle system. It's a turn-based affair that allows you and up to three of your companions to take turns to defeat a menagerie of monsters. If you sneak up on an opponent in the field, it will afford you extra damage points in battle. You take it in turns to attack and damage your opponents, choosing from a range of moves including normal attacks and specials (that have limited uses and deal more damage). Some characters even have the option to heal others.
The combat system itself is pretty tried and tested, but doesn't feel tired and testing. The only complaint we might levy at it is that at times it felt like some battles dragged on a little. The combat doesn't seem to be high octane and instead, it sometimes slowed down the experience. This was especially obvious when an opponent resurrected or summoned another creature. While the pacing wasn't game-breaking, we think the combat could have done with a bit more energy at times.
It sounds like we're grumbling a lot but there are certainly some nice things to say. For example, the game is really nice to look at, and the textures and lighting were superb. The different areas you visit, such as forests and dungeons, were all carefully and beautifully designed. The music also set the scene perfectly with an old-worldy feel that made us feel right at home. Then there was the great storytelling, dialogue and character development that makes this a well-rounded experience and allows you really to connect with the world and the people in it, even if some of the Hungarian words used were pretty difficult to pronounce.
If you can get on with the control system and the sometimes over-long battles, you will find an interesting and inviting experience that provides hours of fun. We enjoyed our time with Operencia: The Stolen Sun, and despite failing to connect with the inflexible control system, we saw that underneath it there was a good game.
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