I awoke one night a few weeks ago with a start. The dream that I’d had continued to linger…it had seemed so real! As I slept, I’d imagined that an angel had visited me with a message from the divine. God himself had apparently decreed that I should review every single video game in which you play as a wizard. When I woke up, I’d found a single feather laying on my pillow, clearly proof that either the angel was real or that the pillow had a hole in it. It turns out it was the latter. Either way, I’ve been doing God’s work with my reviews lately and that’s going to continue; it’s time to look at Xaviant’s Lichdom: Battlemage.
Lichdom stars you as either a male or female protagonist. You’re gifted with a set of magical bracers by a mysterious sorcerer in order to help you seek revenge against the villainous Count Shax and his forces of evil. Unlike the majority of RPG-style robe-wearing spell-slinging games lately, Lichdom distinguishes itself by taking place from a first-person perspective and by freeing you from the concepts of mana and cooldowns. This does a lot to make you feel like a true badass; if you think about it, mana and cooldowns are basically there to keep you from having too much fun at once, so if you get rid of those…
Lichdom is basically a series of arena-style battles against hordes of foes punctuated by the odd boss battle here and there. Your magical powers stem from a variety of sigils, giving your spells the power of fire, ice, gravity and dimensional control amongst several others. As mentioned, you don’t need to fuel your spells with anything so you’re free to throw around most of your big-ticket magic to your heart’s content, though the real showstoppers combine the powers of two sigils at once and need to be charged by killing enemies. On the defensive side of things you’ve got a customizable shield that regenerates over time, a blocking ward and a variety of dodge techniques. In one nod to the typical mage tropes, you’re fairly fragile so it’s best to avoid attacks if at all possible instead of blocking or taking them directly.
Spells are customizable to a great degree and you’re strongly encouraged to learn how the various power sigils interact to form highly damaging combo effects. This can either be part of the game’s fun or its greatest frustration; if you aren’t using effective combos and up-to-date magic, you’re not going to be doing the kind of damage you need to take down hordes of enemies. Spells are customized by crafting them using components that drop from defeated foes. The crafting system is fairly in-depth, though each sigil really only has three different effects so a lot of it involves customizing the shape of your spell and, of course, the modern RPG standby of increasing things by tiny percentages. This isn’t something you can ignore, as enemies grow more powerful very quickly and bosses will wipe the floor with you if you don’t have decent spells. You might even find yourself needing to grind for new components from time to time along with upgrading what you’ve got.
This is all well and good for the first few hours of the game, but Lichdom: Battlemage’s failing is that it never really shakes things up. The devs’ idea of boosting difficulty as you continue in the plot is to throw even more waves of increasingly durable enemies at you. Making any sort of progress becomes a painful slog as you’re forced to massacre entire battalions of baddies with spells that don’t really get any better at taking out groups. The sole death penalty is a loss of the drop rarity that you accrue by progressing without dying, but the loss of time spent re-fighting the armies you already beat is painful enough. Since your character remains pretty delicate even as you upgrade your shields, it doesn’t take a very big misstep to get yourself killed and sent back half an hour or so.
Still, the game’s pretty enough that it’s hard to hate it for this. The graphics are astounding, the sound is engrossing and the voice acting is…er, passable, with the villains providing the best performances. Spells are suitably impressive, bringing to mind the Plasmids and Vigors of the Bioshock series. This is good, because spells are your sole combat option and you’ll be seeing a lot of them. Finding a new spell sigil becomes the high point of the experience as you get to check out your new effects.
Lichdom: Battlemage is a solid experience that’s marred by the way it runs out of steam fairly early on. It feels like the type of game that could have been half as long without losing much. The spells and story should be interesting enough to keep fans of gritty fantasy tales pushing through after the gameplay has outstayed its welcome. At around $30 it’s certainly worth the money either way – just don’t feel bad about stopping when things get a little too agonizing.