Operencia: The Stolen Sun by Zen Studios is a throwback first-person turn-based dungeon crawler that seeks to add some modern polish to an older, underutilized formula of trying to put the player into a dungeon themselves, rather than controlling a character in the third person. While retro-styled games are definitely a popular design choice, this one doesn’t see much in the way of use. Does it still hold up? Let’s find out in our review of Operencia: The Stolen Sun.
Operencia, upon starting the game, immediately puts its story-telling design on display. The game opens with a prologue, doubling as a tutorial, showing how the previous king, and defender of the realm, dealt with attacks from the underworld. King Atilla, along with his queen, make their way through a forest and to an opening to the underworld which was opened by a dragon trying to enter the world. After fighting off lizardmen, demons, and the dragon himself, the king sealed the portal, and went on to continue his protection of the realm until his death. Leaving no successor, the narrator ponders who will protect the land now? In comes the player, a farmer having a dream that guided him to a sunken castle. After telling his father about it, he encouraged him to follow the path he was shown and see where he would be taken. From here, you manage to find the castle, make your way inside of it, and begin your adventure.
Operencia’s gameplay can definitely feel a bit awkward at first if this is your first entry in this genre. As each dungeon is based on a grid, similar to a Dungeons & Dragons pen and paper map would be, movement is locked to each grid. Players can still move freely, turn, strafe, and look with your mouse, but moving through the dungeon is locked to each tile. For other games in the genre that I’ve played this hasn’t been a problem, as there was no mouse look, but Operencia adds small pieces of loot and puzzle objects in different areas on the map, meaning the player will need to pay a bit more attention, and may forget that they cannot walk directly forward. That being said, if you were just looking at the world itself with no minimap (which is actually a difficulty setting, if you want to map out the dungeon on your own) you wouldn’t be able to tell that everything is supposed to be on a grid. Obstacles, environmental debris and decoration isn’t all blocky and is also rarely bound to a single tile. The environments themselves definitely give off dark, dangerous vibes and feel carefully planned. For those who want to see it all, there are secrets and puzzles spread through the dungeons that solely reward loot for discovery and completion respectively, which, while non-essential, make slaying your way through the next dungeon that much easier.
Combat in Operencia is engaged by finding monsters walking around inside a dungeon, rather than random encounters. Monsters can be engaged by walking into them, with the start of the fight being influenced by the way they are approached. Walking into their back gives the player an initiative bonus for ambushing, though the same can happen to the player if a monster gets the jump on you. Combat is turn based, and cycles through both individual characters and enemies based on your initiative, and any buffs or debuffs you gain or lose during combat. Characters will have a basic melee, ranged, and guard ability that drains no mana, as well as special abilities that they start with, and further abilities that can be unlocked through their specific talent trees as they level. On top of this, enemies will be in one of three lanes on the combat board. Each attack and ability has a specific effectiveness based on the row an enemy is in, encouraging the use of ranged attacks to hit monsters in the back row, while meleeing will be a good option for those in the front. This system is fairly intuitive, and adding abilities brings about a bit more strategy while keeping in mind that health and mana can only be regenerated by spending a piece of firewood to rest at a campfire. You’ll need to keep your party healthy in each fight, as well as plan for what could come ahead. If resetting to your last save on death isn’t enough of a motivation for you, the option to turn on permadeath and have your save wiped is also there.
Character progression can be relatively customizable, though a lot of it is up to the player. As with any good RPG, gear can be acquired throughout the game, and will work better for different characters and roles. Each character has 8 different equipment slots, which can be filled manually or by hitting the “optimize” button on the character screen. This will automatically grab what the game thinks is best for that character, though I wasn’t able to tell if it took your build into account for this. Different characters join you throughout the game as well, though not all can be used at once. Though the character representing the player can be built out from a few classes at the beginning, those joining you will already have skills and attributes assigned to them for their level, though leveling up for each character will give you three attribute points and one talent point. The talent trees have an option to choose from an active ability or a passive stat gain, with later options unlocking as you invest more into specific trees. These let you decide if you want to make a character specialize in, generally, a damage or support role, or try to do two things at once. This seems up to the player’s preference, as I didn’t feel gimped taking abilities from multiple trees or choosing a single tree, though this may come into play on a higher difficulty.
Overall, Operencia: The Stolen Sun hits all the right points for a great, immersive RPG. The game is great fun to play, and exploring each dungeon, taking in the areas and listening to the characters banter with each other sucks you into the world. While it is definitely a niche game, those who enjoy it will definitely be well served to pick up Operencia and give it a go.
Score: 8.5 / 10.0
- Characters & narrator provide backstory and insight
- Each dungeon's environment is beautifully done
- Puzzles & secrets reward curiosity and exploration
- Interface could use some polish
- Row system in combat feels inconsequential
Note: Our PC copy of Operencia: The Stolen Sun was provided by PR.