Despite the name, Silverfall has nothing to do with Ed Greenwood’s world of the Forgotten Realms, beyond being set in a fantasy world. And, despite the red-haired vixen that appears to be the game’s mascot, the game has nothing to do with Dungeon Siege, although this game is certainly a Diablo clone. Perhaps I’m just being picky, but it doesn’t bode well for a game’s originality when the name and cover artwork seem to be a bit too familiar. Anyway, on with the review.
While it isn’t immediately apparent, this game is a Diablo-style RPG, with strong influences from Guild Wars, Dungeon Siege, Baldur’s Gate, and, well, just about every other game related to the genre. The game starts with your hometown being overrun by bad guys (undead trolls, mostly), and, in a tutorial, you take control of the town’s archmage (whose name is, by the way, Archmage – one of many indications that originality will be an issue here). The player can do no wrong with the firepower of an (the?) archmage, but after crushing the trolls, you’ll meet the game’s villain, who crushes Archmage and you, and possesses him.
Cut to the refugee camp, where, as a starting adventurer, your first quest is to go out and trim down all the zombies that have been spawned, MMO-style, around the camp. Try not to kill more than necessary, as this game uses dynamic leveling – monsters and loot level as you do, curiously detracting from adventuring more than necessary. Also, avoid getting killed early, as when you die, you lose everything, forcing you to make a corpse run (as per old school MMOs), at least until you complete the goblin chest quest, where you can buy insurance against that sort of inconvenience (you’ll just respawn in town with full equipment, and a rising premium in this case).
Character development is the shining light of the game. You’re free to build your character as you please. As you gain levels, you can improve skills in combat, magic, and “other,” and each category has 3 sub-categories. Combat, for instance, includes melee, archery, and a bunch of unrelated talents that don’t build on other skills (such as treasure finding, running, and so forth). Melee has two choices – defensive or offensive, with other skills supporting them. Archery is a bit of a disappointment, though, as top of the line missile weapons have a range of 14 feet, making them very difficult to use effectively. Magic makes more sense than archery, since you can wear full armor – why sacrifice a shield to use a bow (or rifle) when you can learn magic and get ranged attacks without reducing defense? Magic has elemental, holy, and shadow; elemental seems to be a better deal than shadow, but you’ll need to spend at least one skill point in holy’s “resurrection,” to avoid the inconvenience of dead henchmen (although you can go back to town to get them raised for free).
"Character development is the shining light of the game."
The final category, “other” (and yes, that really is its name), is the sole flicker of originality in the game. The first sub-category is a collection of racial skills (you can be human, elf, troll, or goblin), basically providing a small percent bonus per point spent. The other two categories are nature and technology. A strong theme in the game is the rivalry between nature and science, and many quests give a choice which way to go (yes, I know this was also done to some extent in Arcanum, but it’s a bit different here, at least). For example, you can stop hunters from slaughtering buffalo, or help them kill more buffalo. As you make these choices your loyalty to one side or the other allows you to pick skills. Sadly, each option has a direct parallel…Science has a skill that increases intelligence and constitution, while Nature’s equivalent increases strength and agility. Similarly, Nature will let you summon a beast to help with fighting, while technology lets you “build” a robot (although I’m not so sure what’s scientific about waving your arms, spending mana points, and having a robot appear, only to vanish after 60 seconds or so). Additionally, equipment (like the aforementioned rifle) may only be useable by someone with sufficient factional loyalty.
Because so many skills have equivalents, the skill trees become exhausted quickly; after about 25 levels, there really won’t be anything new for your character beyond gaining another 1% increase to damage or to armor or whatever. On the off chance you’ve wasted a few skill points, some towns have specialists that will, for a small fee, allow you to unlearn skills. Thus, you really only need to have one high-level character to see all the game has to offer.
"...after about 25 levels, there really won’t be anything new for your character..."
The henchmen auto-level, and you can fully equip them as you like (just stick with the kinds of weapons they started with, to take advantage of their skills). They sort of have personalities but generally do whatever you tell them to do. There supposedly is some way to “nurture” them into getting bonuses, but whatever this NPC system is, it’s easily avoided and certainly not necessary to completing the game.
Questing, likewise, is fun for a time, but gets tiresome eventually. The wilderness, all of it, is simply land with hordes of random monster spawns. The process of “approach the spawn, kill the mobs, repeat as needed,” every time you want to explore, is made even more tedious by the fairly limited variety of monsters. There are no named monsters a-la Diablo, beyond the quests, which typically send you to point A to kills mobs and return. It’s the same for indoor settings, with random spawns of guards to be fought or avoided. The only place with real variety in the monsters is in the goblin areas – and this is offset quite a bit by most of the mechanical/goblin hybrids being very similar to what one saw in Dungeon Siege. Mercifully, you can move all around the world very quickly (much like Guild Wars), just by opening up the map screen and clicking on where you want to go. Quite a few folks have downloaded the whole game directly off the Atari website, and didn’t learn this important feature, which takes at least some of the edge off walking through the random world.
Treasure and loot… well, you could probably guess at this point what I’m going to say. There are no set items, but otherwise there’s the normal/rare/unique type system. Like everything else, it’s serviceable, and no more.
The graphics are by far the best I’ve seen in this genre; all the monsters and characters look really nice. Alas, appreciating such is hard, as the third person viewing system is myopic: it’s very difficult to see something ten feet over your head, making it impossible to examine the large statues or buildings conveniently, and there will be many occasions where you’ll simply get confused trying to navigate based on the funny angles the camera chooses. It’s a shame there’s no way to scroll in to first person mode.
When I first started playing, I was impressed with the game, as it seemed the first real advancement since the Diablo genre was created years ago. After one play-through, though, I’m done with it. There are, of course, options to play on two higher skill levels once you’ve completed the basic game, but with no new skills or interesting treasures, and combat that’s all the same, there’s no point. The game never crashed on me, which is a plus, and there are at least some hints of new ideas here, but for the most part this is a forgettable action RPG, one to play through once and put on the shelf.
+ Great graphics.
+ One character can do it all.
– Marginal role-playing.
– Nothing new after level 25.
– Clumsy movement.
– Really no point in multiplayer.