Review: 'Earthlock' (PC)

Steam artwork for RPG 'Earthlock'. Steam artwork for RPG 'Earthlock'. SNOWCASTLE GAMES

Earthlock is an adventure RPG from Snowcastle Games inspired by the classic 3D RPGs of the late 90's.  It also comes from something else: 2016's Earthlock: Festival of Magic.  While this new Earthlock is basically an improved version of the original, there are a number of new features and updates that warrant us giving it a look.

Those of us who are in their 30s will find a lot to appreciate about Earthlock.  The game is a success story from Kickstarter and is the first act of a planned three-part series by Snowcastle.  In a way, it's a JRPG for Western audiences and it comes together rather well overall.

Taking the role of Amon, players journey across the planet of Umbra.  Umbra is a rather unique setting as the entire planet stopped spinning thousands of cycles ago.  Because of that, one side is perpetually dark and cold whereas the other side -- the one permanently facing the sun -- is always hot.  As chance would have it, Amon comes across an artifact and a (rather stereotypical) "unlikely companion" and thus begins an adventure where the secrets of Umbra will finally be revealed.  It seems a little formulaic, sure, but gosh darn if it doesn't get the job done in a comfortable way.

Visually, the game probably won't win any awards.  Compared to the big-budget titles out there, Earthlock simply looks... well... old.  Simply put, the game looks a lot like the 3D RPGs and adventure games that one would expect from the late 1990s and early 2000s, just cleaner.  At least Snowcastle took advantage of modern poly counts to avoid the blockiness of now classic titles like Final Fantasy VII and VIII.  Now, that's not to imply that the graphics are bad.  They're not and we're not saying they are.  We're just saying that players should know what to expect going in to avoid any sort of visual disappointment.  For what it's worth, visuals have improved over the 2016 original.

Combat is a large part of Earthlock and (for better or for worse) it's of the rather standard turn-based variety.  To the developers' credit, however, the player's party of four can be split into pairs with each character's skills working together.  Players can also set each characters stances (each character has two) and this can directly affect how that character does within a battle.  Amon, for example, can switch between a thieving stance that allows him to steal from enemies and a gun-wielding offensive force.  While seemingly a little thing, stances add a lot of strategy to battles that otherwise wouldn't be there.

As for the skirmishes themselves, things are well paced.  This is especially good because Earthlock has the unfortunate trap that is the need to grind.  Grinding, while rarely enjoyable, is at least tolerable in Earthlock thanks in part to dungeon rooms that automatically re-populate with baddies when you re-enter them.  And, for what it's worth, the game's difficulty is probably right about where it should be.  Normal battles aren't too overpowered and players often have the upper hand.  Even most boss battles range from manageable to challenging with only a few that are woefully difficult.  It's like Snowcastle Games doesn't want players to get too frustrated with things.

Crafting and harvesting play important roles in Earthlock as it's the primary way for players to get ammunition for their weapons and consumables for their party.  The player's home base island is (in a way) a miniature Harvest Moon.  On it, players can grow plants, create potions, purchase gear, and so on.  As the game progresses, more crafting and harvesting features unlock.  The two mechanics, however, don't go as deep as some may like.  This may change in the next two installments of the trilogy, but for now there's just enough to keep players at it.

And, pretty much that's a good way to ultimately describe Earthlock.  There's just enough to keep players at it.  Some elements could be a little deeper such as crafting and harvesting.  Visuals could be a little more cutting-edge and things could be more complexity or innovations in the game's turn-based combat.  As it is, though, there is plenty for Snowcastle Games to build off of for future installments in the trilogy and those who ultimately decide to drop the $30 and download it from Steam should overall be happy with their purchase.


Final Score: 7.5 out of 10

A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of review.

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