Stories: Path of Destinies is a new ARPG built on Unreal that’ll have you slaying hundreds of enemies, leveling up the heroic fox known as Reynardo, and crafting new swords with which to fight against the forces of evil. That’s where the ordinary of Stories ends, because to truly beat Stories you’ll need to make decisions… and when those turn out to be wrong, you’ll try again. Like one of Tom Cruise’s best movies, it’s Live – Die – Repeat.
Don’t let that description fool you into thinking Stories is something akin to Dark Souls, though. There are five main chapters to the game’s story, and each time you finish one playthrough (which takes about 30-60 minutes, you’ll be whisked back to the beginning in order to try again. You see, there’s a big bad emperor and there’s a rebellion fighting back against him. You, a Sword Fu trained fox get pulled into the fight one day when a boy you’re protecting because your dead mother asked you to is killed and leaves behind a book of legend that could be the solution to the rebellion.
Oh, and when you ultimately fail to do the right thing, its pages will flip back to the beginning of the story and you’ll get to try, try again until you get it right. It’s all done in a 4th-wall breaking sort of way, where Reynardo the fox is cognizant of everything that’s going on with the book. As you lead the game to its conclusion, each time you gain powerful knowledge of how to proceed on the next playthrough. I went into Stories without too much knowledge of this mechanic.
In a Zelda like fashion, you’ll replay levels but the way in which you upgrade your skills and unlock new powers with your “Hero Sword” (like I said, tongue in cheek) will give you access to new areas and new ways to play levels. Each time you finish the books’ chapters, you learn a truth about the tale that will help you and Reynardo make more informed decisions on subsequent playthroughs.
The combat is a definite highlight. Simple, intuitive and fast paced it's a lot like the best of Batman’s Arkham series of games. You attack, parry, dodge, and use several different types of swords for various effects – healing, fire damage, freezing, and more. As you level, you gain access to more skills, and as you unlock more truths of the book, you unlock deeper levels of those skills. It's all very straightforward, but offers solid character growth for Reynardo as you play.
Visually, the game’s an artistic stunner in Unreal 4, but folks who are fond of realistic graphics will be disappointed. Stories is squarely in the artistic fantasy realm of things. This is an indie game too, so you don't get full cinematic cut scenes and loads of motion-captured animations. Instead, you have to rely on the storytelling and narration which are pretty quality most of the time. The music and audio cues are all on point, but not memorable. No, the main audio majesty of Stories comes from it's wonderful storybook narration. It's like being read a great fairytale by the refined British Uncle you always wish you had.
I will malign the fixed camera. You can't rotate it to suit your needs or just get a different angle on things but then you don’t really need to. The level design is done well enough and the camera zooms and shifts when it needs to, but I will would prefer to rotate the camera. It's simply a matter of preference, though. There were very few bugs when I played too, though sometimes when you encounter a new enemy and the game slows down to offer a tutorial the camera would lock but the game would keep playing resulting in my death. The game is also optimized for the console primarily, with PC controls and settings coming up second. I'm not one to get upset about using a controller, but the PC controls work well enough (they just don't feel as natural as the controller).
All things considered, for $15, I'd recommend Stories for just about anyone who visits this site and likes lighthearted fantasy stories. It'll last you about 10 hours or so, and there's a launch sale on Humble Bundle for $13.50. My copy was provided free of charge by Spearhead’s PR team at Evolve, but I'd happily have plopped down the one month sub to WoW for this little gem. Its unique narrative mechanics, combined with the intuitive and rhythmic combat make it a pretty great experience.