Beyond Good and Evil
Morality it seems is a popular conceit with RPG developers of late. Fable obviously with its horny protagonist (or not, if you choose the path of good); Knights of the Old Republic had the Sith/Jedi conundrum; and now there is Kult: Heretic Kingdoms. Created by Slovakian developer 3D People and published by European company Project Three Interactive (P3i), Kult is an isometric combat-biased RPG in a similar vein to the classic Diablo.
In this game however the moral choices you make do not affect your playing experience, but they do affect how some NPCs react to your character. Indeed, ultimately, your moral choices lead you along the same path, and the only real affect your choices have are which of the six endings to the game you will see. Don’t get me wrong though, this is not necessarily a bad thing. You see, the character you play in Kult is not your typical do-gooding, save-everyone, hero of the people. For example, in one quest you can choose to either help a runaway slave to freedom, or tell his masters where he is hiding. There are lots of little choices like this throughout the game, and whilst they may not have much overall effect they still add resonance to the story and gameworld.
The story itself is also not your usual 'Save the princess, defeat the evil forces and restore peace to the land’ malarkey. Written in conjunction with external script writing and game design company, International Hobo (who also wrote the script for the recent Ghostmaster on PC and Xbox). The main focus of the story surrounds the powerful Godslayer sword (the weapon which slew God, obviously), and your quest to destroy it. The sword is a symbol of religion, but in the Heretic Kingdoms religion is outlawed. Your character is an initiate of the Inquisition, tasked with stamping out religious practice throughout the land of Corwenth.
Before those of you with religious beliefs who are offended by such a storyline start writing to the company, I would like to mention again that the story is filled with choice. You can choose to turn a blind eye to religious practice, or even turn toward it yourself. Also to those not of a religious nature, this is by no means a game all about it, it just provides a strong backdrop to the rest of the storyline.
Play us (At)tune
Now because this game is at heart a combat oriented RPG, you would hope the fighting system is its most extensive feature. Happily the combat, and character customization, are both very well implemented. Although somewhat simplified in execution compared to similar titles, it still manages to provide both depth and variety. The most important aspect of the system is that of 'attunements’. Every object in the game (weapons, armor, accessories) contains a useable ability that can be drawn out of it by using that object correctly.
For instance, an iron ring worn when you have no armor equipped will allow you to attune the 'Defense Aura’ skill. Once learnt and activated (at a campfire or inn), and you still fulfill the 'no armor’ criteria, you will have a higher defense with no speed loss to your attacks. There are lots of different skills to be attuned which will suit however you choose to develop your character, be it a Knight, Mage, Archer or any mixture of skills.
Another major feature of Kult is the Dreamworld. This is basically the same environment as the real world but populated with ghosts and other non-corporeal enemies. In the Dreamworld you can also find Hex Marks and Essence, which can be used to level up your character and attunement levels respectively. Therefore it is usually worth exploring all areas in both the normal world and the Dreamworld. It also provides an escape route if you are outnumbered. Be careful though, as there are also certain more powerful enemies that can exist in both realms at the same time.
The environments often look nice. Some are very detailed and intricate, unlike other games of this type that can be too obviously built from the same repeating graphics tiles. Not all areas of Kult are full of detail but those that aren’t are still fairly interesting. The isometric engine also allows for zooming in and out, although it is likely you will just find a level of zoom you are comfortable with and leave it alone. I preferred to zoom out to give myself a wider view, although you don’t get to see as much detail on the characters, which isn’t as well done as the environments anyway.
The audio doesn’t quite live up to the visuals unfortunately, the music isn’t exactly bad but isn’t really standout either. It’s appropriate enough for each location and doesn’t grate on you. Sound effects are adequate, except for the occasional misplaced one (the sound of picking up a sword, but you’ve picked up a shield). I know that sounds picky and it is again a minor thing, but adds to the loss of immersion. Like I said though it does not happen often enough to be a concern and may well be fixed in a later patch. The biggest plus for the audio comes from 3D People getting ex-Doctor Who, Tom Baker, to provide narration of the story. His rumbly bass filled voice adds gravitas and is a most welcome addition.
Overall Kult is a good game, save for some minor niggles which will hopefully be patched in time. Indeed a patch to version 1.1 is already available that fixes a couple of these minor issues. The only major issue is the long loading times on lower spec machines. In spite of these faults the game plays well, and although the character abilities aren’t particularly original (elemental attacks, etc.) this is more a criticism of the whole genre, and Kult has a refreshing system to learn and use them. The story is a strong point too, which for an RPG is probably the most important aspect for most players. Definitely worth a try.