Blizzard's Diablo series not only created the "click-and-attack" Action-RPG genre, but set the bar for future imitators. Over the years there were many competent, if not entirely solid attempts to create a better mouse trap. The best of these was last year's Titan Quest, which inched the bar a bit higher. So with expectations in this genre already sky high how does Monte Cristo's Silverfall fare? Not so well.
The user interface will go down in my book as the chunkiest thing I've used since start of the century. Oh, and the "Esc" button doesn't pause the game. So don't hit it and walk away to grab that beer thinking you'll be safe from a level 6 zombie lumbering toward your character. Not that you have to worry about that happening too early in the game.
Graphically Silverfall shines with detailed textures, real-time lighting/shadows, and spell casting with enough pretty lights to send small Japanese school children into seizures.
In the strangest gameplay design I've ever seen in this genre you don't play as the character you select during the "tutorial level." After spending the five minutes deciding your race (trolls finally get some lovin'), hair color, skin tone, and appearance… the game dumps you into the boots of an uber-powerful protector named "Archmage." Yes, it's fun to defend a city under attack with a character that stomps all over every enemy… but it makes for a jarring transition to your level 1 weakling after the tutorial is over.
My initial impressions were extremely positive. Graphically Silverfall shines with detailed textures, real-time lighting/shadows, and spell casting with enough pretty lights to send small Japanese school children into seizures. The only oddity is that environments are realistic and take their design cues from medieval Europe, while characters have thick black lines around them and more comic book-styled textures. It's almost like the two art teams were given complete opposite directions. There is an option in the menus to turn off the "cel-shading" but it's still very strange that the game shipped this way.
Combat is the typical "point-and-click" affair this genre is defined by, with a few small twists. In addition to the usual tech-tree, there is the option to align your character with either nature or a steam-punk styled technology. Each gives you different special abilities to use in battle. Beyond this, you can specialize you avatar in either ranged, melee, or magic. With all these abilities, it can be a bit daunting trying to use the number keys to switch between secondary-attack specialties on the fly.
Not that I had to worry about switching combat stances when I was dead. The difficulty level (even on the lowest setting) was surprisingly hard. In this genre I'm used to mowing over rats or the first couple hundred experience points until the pace picks up. In Silverfall my elf-warrior died at the second group of reanimated dead. Death is exasperating because picking up your corpse (headstone in this case) doesn't re-equip your character. For that you'll have to run to a quiet spot to manually equip everything. This gets very old after the third death in a row.
My trouble killing mere level-2 zombies might have come from my rusty mouse-clicking skills, or it could have been the sparse descriptions of how abilities work. Writing across the board in Silverfall is borderline "all your base are belong to us." Upon finishing the tutorial level (the one where you play as the Archmage) I was treated to a paragraph that roughly went, "While the Archmage was fighting [spoiler] we survivors guided by Archmage managed to escape."
If the bar of entry to creating a killer action-RPG game wasn't already high enough it's certainly obscenely high now. Which makes reviewing Silverfall all the harder. If it had come out before Titan Quest it would have faired far better. As it stands now I can't recommend this game to even a weekend-fan of this genre.