Earth is on its last legs, almost entirely decimated by a mysterious calamity.
Avril began hearing voices in her dreams that promised a way to save Earth and, in her recklessness and desperation, she listened. The ancient entities Sun and Moon bestowed both physical and mental powers onto their new, chosen champion: The Keeper of Balance.
"When you're desperate, you truly hold on to anything." - Avril
In order to save her beloved home and everyone she cares about, she must travel across the galaxy and through four corrupted planets to find and mend their elemental cores. With the energy of those cores, she will be able to restore Earth to its former glory.
*Editor's note - This is a pre-release review, and some of this information is subject to change upon Batora: Lost Haven’s release in Autumn 2022.
This was my first experience with Stormind Games. They call themselves developers of intense stories, and this Italian company holds up to that promise.
The story behind Batora has significant depth and many subplots that build onto the main story. It is also one of the few games of its kind that openly acknowledges that the main goal has been put on the back burner to deal with other things first. It merely puts the main story on a clear, light pause while other matters take over our protagonist's attention.
Every choice has a consequence, and this game absolutely has a butterfly effect. Seriously, I accidentally got myself exiled. Sometimes the result of a choice will sneak up on you in ways you wouldn't expect, and sometimes you're faced with a double-edged sword. Both results will be bad, but which will be worse? Do you want to be a conqueror or a defender? How will your story unfold?
Batora: Lost Haven is a classic twin-stick shooter combined with hack and slash elements, and both styles are presented as different natures that you can swap at will. The hack and slash -- or physical powers -- are an orange aura with a giant sword, and the mental powers for the twin-stick shooter style combat is a purple aura that shoots what looks like bolts of magic.
Both styles have new and exciting abilities you can gain through runes as you acquire them over time, as well as leveling up. Both natures also have their own respective health bar that depletes with the different attacks from the monsters. Strangely enough for the genre though, there is no actual skill tree. Everything works through equipping or unequipping runes and skills, and what you can equip can also depend on alignment points. Some of the runes are labelled as defender or conqueror, others are simply neutral. With each label, they require a specific type of points in sufficient quantities in order to equip it. The points earned as you level appear to be dependent on the choices you make.
Players can switch back and forth between fighting styles in the middle of combat to use whichever nature is best to defeat the monsters at hand. The seamless swap adds another layer to the fights, as well as something to which you should actively pay attention. Using only one of the two natures alone will not get you very far, and the ever-changing battlefield will require those quick swaps.
Monsters have their own aura that indicates which powers are best to attack them with and when faced with multiple monsters, it is most typically a mix of both physical and mental. There are also more powerful monsters that will switch between both attacking styles themselves. The need to swap between styles is not only a unique mechanic that I personally enjoyed, but it was also an additional challenge to the game's combat. The wrong attacks on enemies do almost no damage, if any at all.
The game does not have a lock-on function, and where you are aiming, shooting, or striking solely depends on the placement of your cursor; the direction your character is facing does not matter. Besides your basic attacks, all other abilities also have varying cooldowns, and this includes dodging. This isn't a game where you can just spam the dodge button to your heart's content. Timing your dodges is a big factor in avoiding death, so keep that in mind!
The puzzles in this game are fantastic. Some work as riddles while others are more like a maze, but they are all unique with their own quirks and challenges. Some of them require timing, and others require patience. They also incorporate the two different natures by requiring swapping between them to have the right effect on triggers, or even on the environment itself.
I appreciated the fact that the puzzles required some thinking, and that the solution wasn't always obvious. If you weren't trying to figure out how to lower a wall or move a platform, you were magically moving a giant ball over a narrow pathway and hoping it didn't roll off the edge when you rounded a corner.
Other puzzles involve memorization, like ringing bells in a specific order or sequence. One particular riddle puzzle comes to mind that turned out to be very clear instructions once you worked through what it was trying to say, and that didn't take long either. It's just enough to get your gears turning, but not enough to cause any frustration or desire for a guide.
Between choices that create a change in the characters and overall story, as well as the ability to skip over sections, this game was absolutely made to be replayable. There are some achievements gained by some of the individual choices made, different abilities to be gained depending on the points you have granted , and even just the curiosity of “What ifs?” How would the story have played out if you made the opposite choices, or even just swapped one of them you didn’t like the result of? Perhaps one of the choices made you feel bad and you just want to redeem yourself.
There is also a fair amount of exploration for this type of game, like searching for treasure chests or trees of knowledge, another battle, or vendors. There was a lot of care put into building the worlds Avril visits in her journey to save Earth, and it was definitely worthwhile taking the time to really look around and appreciate it.
At first glance, you can absolutely tell that this game was made using Unreal Engine. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it’s something many will notice. Besides that, much time and care has gone into the planets, settings, and character creations to bring this story to life. The characters were created to be unique and memorable in both personality and design, and each one of them served some kind of purpose. The artwork as well was absolutely gorgeous and did the rest of the work in really breathing life into them.
Each environment in the game felt like a different experience, and generally brought something new into the gameplay whether it was a different style of monster or puzzle. Just as well, the bosses were definitely unique in their design and abilities. Batora's overall aesthetic was both pleasing and captivating.
Despite how nice the game looks, the system requirements aren't crazy, making this a game that can be enjoyed by a wider audience.
In summary, Batora: Lost Haven is a very dynamic game with smooth mechanics and a lot of depth. The gameplay is fluid and a refreshing take on the genre with their new and innovative additions and changes. Simplistic yet a little challenging, relaxing but also a bit intense. I thoroughly enjoyed what I've played of this game and, if you’re interested, I urge you to give the demo a shot! The game is going to be released in the Fall of 2022, so why not get a good feel for the game before then?
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