On the Eighth Day God Gamed & It Was Good
Kingdom Games has put out a nifty ARPG called FIVE: Guardians of David that sits squarely in the style of Diablo, Torchlight and Titan Quest. While those games boast evil denizens of the underworld or mythological underpinnings, FIVE puts a new spin on ARPGs with its foundation in the Bible, namely in the Old Testament stories of David, of Goliath fame.
FIVE: Guardians of David has been developed by Kingdom Games that features creative minds that have worked on any number of well-known products including Darksiders, Shroud of the Avatar, Mass Effect, Star Wars: The Old Republic, Ultima Online and many more. This is an experienced team and it shows.
Before moving on into the more traditional aspects of a typical game preview, the 500-pound elephant in the room must be removed: While FIVE is based on the Bible, it does not preach or seek to convert. It simply uses both historical and Biblical settings to tell a heroic story of the man who would later become an Israelite king. There are occasions when Biblical passages are quoted, but each comes at a natural point in the journey. These nuggets of information are found in 'caches' throughout the game that can be clicked to open both a text and audio description designed to learn more historical or Biblical information about what is happening in any given location. They can also be left unopened completely.
FIVE is very much a traditional ARPG with a bit of a bonus for those who like the option to play more than one character. Rather than creating a character to observe and accompany the historical figures the FIVE represent, players become the FIVE in many ways. This is, after all, a game based on the people mentioned in the Biblical stories about David's years prior to becoming king -- his inner circle, in a manner of speaking.
Over the course of the first couple of acts in the game, a party of, you guessed it, FIVE battle characters will be assembled, each with their own skills, gear, and abilities. As the game progresses, these characters level up, acquire new gear, new or improved skills and more. There is a sixth character, Ariella, who joins the party as an NPC from time to time and who narrates the stories/passages found in the caches mentioned above. There is a 2-handed weapon wielder, an archer, a tank, a melee-range hybrid and a ranged sling user. Each character's skills can be set to suit any situation, skills that will be used by the AI when not controlled by the player. Additionally, each character's skills can be leveled to make them stronger and more powerful, a system that is satisfying and suited to those who like to micromanage parties and abilities.
The drawback to the is that there is no real character / party customization. There are no tactical commands that can be issued to the party to make the AI-controlled members perform better, etc. On level up, there are no stat points to assign which would have given players a better sense of progression.
As with all ARPGs, finding more and better loot is an area in which FIVE excels. Nearly every pot broken or enemy slain drops something that can be used or sold for currency. There are pots and baskets to break, bodies to loot, chests to open, caches to explore and much more. In addition, bosses, like Goliath (inexplicably NOT killed by using a sling!) can drop fantastic items as well.
The graphics are easy on the eyes with a nice variety of textures and tilesets from caves to city environments. The characters, when they aren't borking with buggy AI, perform skill rotations as programmed through player choices. That buggy AI can get you into trouble rather quickly. Enemies come in large packs and smack hard when they do. Party members stood there watching the action without attacking or caught behind something far too often. Hopefully, it will be something the devs address.
Combat doesn't feel very visceral either. The sounds throughout the game are top notch except in this area where characters pack a whiffle more than a punch, though the animations and skill choice indicate that there should be a significant impact. Ground pound, for instance, just lacks the big BOOM that one might expect. It's not a bad thing, really, and isn't immersion-breaking.
Being a literally terrestrial-based world, the 'bestiary' isn't as wide or varied as many other ARPGs. Animals and opposing soldiers make up the enemies players take on throughout the game. Outside the first zone when all one sees is wolves (and MORE wolves), it isn't bothersome at all. It fits.
The sounds and music are aces, an area where FIVE really shines. The score is absolutely fantastic and is the high point in the aural department. The voice acting is also very good, though there are times when it feels like stereotypical California surfer speak leaks in. It's more amusing than annoying. In addition, rather than cut scenes between acts, players are treated to an amazingly drawn and voiced comic panels that fill in the events between each zone of the game. Hopefully the devs will think about releasing it as either a digital download or in physical form. It's really nicely done.
It features a nicely written story that is as interesting as it is informative and, though Bible-based, is not preachy like a Sunday School lesson can be. The devs have definitely struck the right chord balancing a message with solid, satisfying gameplay.
All in all, FIVE: Guardians of David is a very solid, well-priced ($24.99 on Steam) ARPG that will give players a lot of satisfaction and many hours of enjoyment. Fans of ARPGs will find a lot to like here as there is no question that it stands alongside the likes of Diablo, Torchlight and Titan Quest in a very favorable way.
Gameplay - 7 With pathing issues and AI causing some party members to not function in combat, gameplay suffers far more often than it should. Fights are challenging and each of the FIVE are needed to successfully complete them. Quests offer nuggets of interesting historical information about the early days of Israel.
Visuals & Sound - 9 The visuals in FIVE are very nice with a good variety of tilesets to set each location apart from others. Gear is historically and regionally appropriate. Voice acting is decent, though there are some head scratching moments of disconnect. The music is this section's high point.
Polish - 7 While the game looks great and, when working properly, feels great, there are some bugs that simply should not be left unaddressed for long. This is most evident when party AI borks.
Longevity - 6 While a big, epic, fantastic and interesting story, FIVE will suffer with players having to repeat the same content with the same characters whether scaling difficulty up or down. A cooperative non-story based multiplayer mode with the ability to create a custom character would be a great way to extend its life.
Value - 9 For the sheer number of hours of game play included, $24.99 is a good price. For those preferring to wait for the Steam Summer Sale, it will be worth whatever discount Kingdom Games offers.