Games

Fictorum Review – Bringing The House Down

Magi and wizards often get the short end of the stick when it comes to video games. Sure, they can be great once you’ve spent twenty hours grinding to reach higher levels and advanced incantations in RPGs, but there are precious few games that really allow you to truly unleash the fantastical fury. This is the gap in the market that Fictorum seeks to fill. Mainly by letting you blast trees out of the ground and demolish castle walls with a flick of your mouse from the word ‘go’!

The title refers to your main character, the last of a magical order that has been hunted to near extinction by the soldiers of the Inquisition. As the last remaining wizard, you begin the game with a bounty on your head, and the full force of the Inquisition’s army snapping at your heels. You’re on a mission to destroy the head of the Inquisition and avenge your fallen brethren.

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It wouldn’t make much sense for you to be a wet-behind-the-ears acolyte with middling powers. No, you’re a wizard with a reputation, so it makes sense that you should be able to zap foes into oblivion with a flick of the wrist. You can chose an elemental specialty at the start of the game – opting from fire, ice or lightning attacks – all of which have various strengths and weaknesses.

As a headless chicken sort of player, I found that the marksmanship required to use lightning attacks effectively wasn’t really for me, so I restarted with a dude who could turn into a human mortar. That’s definitely more me.

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The basic spell you’ll begin with is pretty versatile. Sure, you can fling standard castings about with a tap of the left mouse button, but holding down the right will allow you to ‘shape’ your spell. In the case of the Fireball, I could turn it into a more speedy projectile, increasing its damage and splash effect. I could opt to turn one fireball into three, or choose to make it more explosive, hurling foes backwards and dishing out some crowd control. You can customise the options you have for shaping spells with Runes that you’ll pick up along the way, but the important thing to note is that you have the theoretical ability to adjust your approach based on what’s required.

I say ‘theoretical’ because there is a slight caveat. Everything costs Mana. This by itself is not surprising. Every time you cast a spell, you’ll use Mana. However, it’s worth noting that Mana decreases steadily as you aim and as you shape your spells. If you run out of Mana, then these things start eating into your health, and you really don’t want that because your lovely little red bar doesn’t regenerate, and restorative potions are pretty rare.

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There are a handful of battlefields and villages waiting to be demolished that the game recycles , but they nearly all work the same way: approach cautiously, get rushed by mindless AI goons, blast said goons and most buildings in the vicinity, and proceed to the exit portal. The goons can make things interesting if there are enough of them, especially if there are wizards among the ranks. But they only have two actions really: a berserker charge and desperate flight.

That doesn’t mean they can’t be dangerous. You are quite fragile, and even when you find a potion, it doesn’t really restore that much of your health bar. There comes a moment in every battle I’ve had so far that I give up on shaping spells and fall back on spamming the classic fireball. But as you uncover more tomes, gather more spell scrolls, and complement your starting power with defensive incantations and more powerful attacks, you’ll start developing strategies for keeping opponents at bay. That being said, more dangerous than the goons are bits of flying debris. The houses, castles, and trees you blast out of the ground can all injure you if they fall on you. I remember raining lightning down on a garrison wall from what I thought was a pretty safe distance, only to be staring down both barrels of the game over screen after a wall I’d set about demolishing delivered an avalanche of stone to my character’s face.

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Hilariously, and by hilariously I mean frustratingly, it’s difficult to tell what constitutes brutal force in this game. I have died by simply being nudged by a tiny corner of toppling wall. I’ve perished by a bookcase falling over. I’ve also had my finger slip during a little bit of urban burglary and quite literally brought the house down. On my own head.

In little bursts, Fictorum succeeds in making wizarding feel incredibly powerful and fun in a way that few games really allow. No, you’re not omnipotent, but you can blast enormous holes in the walls of castles. There’s something about destruction modelling and pretending to be Thor that really floats my boat. In its best moments, Fictorum manages to make you forget the awful camera, the fiddly aiming, the broken AI, and the lacklustre presentation. When it shines most brightly, etching a goofy grin on my face, this game manages to transcend its tepid plot and paper-thin context. Yes, it would be nice to be a little more invested in things, but OHMYFUCKINGDAYS I JUST BLEW THE ROOF OFF OF THAT MANSION AND IT LANDED ON THAT ANGRY MOB HAHAHAHAHA!

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Fictorum is full of little choices, and the game unfolds as a journey through a number of chapters that sees you hopping from location to location, picking your path carefully across procedurally-generated maps. Each new location throws up a little textual context in the manner of a choose your own adventure scroll. More often than not, you’ll come across a village set upon by bandits or Corrupted fiends or some poor soul desperately beseeching you for aid. You’ll have to decide whether or not it’s worth your time and energy to lend a helping hand or press on. Diving into the local area means there’s an opportunity to scavenge for items and upgrades. As fun as upturning buildings might be, doing so renders any items inside lost, and you’ll simply absorb a small amount of the game’s currency – Essence – instead. Blasting houses into bits is fun, but loot is super useful, and stealing things is cheaper than buying stuff from merchants.

A small note here: why would you sabotage the most fun part of your game by making it largely incompatible with progression? What is the point of giving you this power if you’re forced to show supreme restraint in order to be able to afford health potions? I wondered if actually this was an incredibly self-aware interactive musing on the nature of being careful what you wish for when it comes to supreme wizarding power…but that seemed a little lofty.

I won’t lie…Fictorum is janky as hell. It’s buggy and fiddly and it looks like arse. It’s also £15, which seems a little steep for something that purports to be finished but feels like an unpolished beta. The story, as I’ve mentioned, is pretty limp. The framing of it all is something I like very much, but I wish the game did a better job of making the battles feel like something more than another cookie-cutter encounter with really dumb AI, an OST track list that I can count on half of one hand, and horrible enemy design. This game is so severely undercooked that I’m surprised I don’t have salmonella.

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But even so, I can’t dislike this game. There’s a simple charm to Fictorum, one that says, ‘You’re a wizard, Harry! Now pop off some fireballs like it’s the Fourth of July and Fireworks Night rolled into one, and turn that castle into rubble!’ It is not a good game. It’s too broken and shallow and repetitive to be called a good game by my reckoning. It does, however, have a few good ideas up its baggy sleeves. If it can be refined and polished, shaped like the spells that form the heart of its silliness, it could become good, perhaps even great. As it is currently, I can’t really recommend it; but I found it to be quite a lot of fun nonetheless.

Platform: PC
Developer: Scraping Bottom Games
Publisher: Scraping Bottom Games
Review copy provided by publisher. Click here to check out the scoring guide. You can head over to the game’s Steam Page by clicking here.

Bringing The House Down

The trouble with a game that starts you off with supremely fun powers rather than making you work for them is that it needs to provide worthwhile things to do in order to keep you invested. Sadly, Fictorum fails horribly on that front. It's got some nifty ideas, and can be janky fun in the beginning, but it's a difficult game to recommend at £15.

4.9
I am wizard, hear me roar:
8
Some cool ideas, especially spell shaping:
7.5
Narrative framing has potential:
5
But, oh, the repetition:
3
Salmonella:
1