• Balrum review by Rick Moscatello

    A very sandy box.

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    A man and his dog. And lots of details.

    Balrum is a single character (plus pet) turn based/real time fantasy/farming role playing/crafting/ sandbox game. All those slashes in the basic game description tell the tale: this game tries to cover all the bases. While generally it does it all well, nevertheless all the little details somehow make it less of a game, or at least less of a fun one.

    There are basically four things that make a role playing game: the world, the character development, the combat, and usually most important, the story.

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    Of course there are day/night cycles. Did you bring torches? No? Did you bring wood/linen/oil to make torches?

    The game world is fairly lean, but certainly sets you up for adventure. Some calamity in the past wiped out much of civilization. The survivors have formed a small village deep in the woods, and have for the most part been terrified to step more than a few feet outside it…leaving a hero to explore the dangerous new world. There is a satisfactory scattering of trap/puzzle filled dungeons to explore.

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    Your character. Or course chance of hit is calculated to four decimal places. What's wrong with that?

    Character development is both deep and simple. You create your character by picking a class, amongst the three choices: swordsman, archer, and spellcaster. You’ll eventually “multiclass” into two of those choices, but can’t pick all three. The real character development comes not so much from gaining levels, but from the learning points (LPs) acquired at those levels. You spend LPs to learn more skills (or a whopping 10 LPs to multiclass). 3 LPs or so will let you learn how to cook, build traps, mine, craft weapons, craft armor, brew potions, and farm (you’ll be doing lots of farming), among other options, and each skill can be improved by spending more LPs (and gold).

    Cooking and farming? You better believe it. Your character will get thirsty and hungry quickly, and often take damage from such concerns unless you monitor satisfaction levels appropriately. You can refill your water containers easily enough, but for food, you’ll need to farm, planting carrots, corn, melons and such; it generally takes a game day or so from seed to harvestable goody (and, of course, you can water the fields or enrich the soil with manure to speed things up…I’ll be glossing over lots of little details like this). Once you have a skill you can purchase additional abilities from trainers.

    You also can go to a magical “safe space,” where you can build your own house, as well as pens for chickens and spiders and other herd animals (I’m a little iffy on a wooden pen holding spiders, but we’ll go with the flow here). You can build an incredibly detailed home…or not, it’s up to you.

    While you can eat food right after harvest, you can also cook it over a flame, or even follow recipes. Naturally, if you want to cook food, you’ll need to cut down some trees for wood to burn, and cutting down trees is thirsty work, so be sure to fill up on water first. Oh, and make sure you’ve learned how to cook.

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    Good ol' alchemy. Did you bring your reading glasses?

    Many skills can play off each other. For example, alchemy lets you brew potions, but you’ll need herbal components…it helps to be a farmer to grow those components. It takes some planning to put it all together, but there is real potential for character development here.

    In addition to your character, you also have a pet (naturally, improvable if you’re willing to spend the LPs). The poor thing is often butchered in combat, but it’s easy enough to resurrect it, to be slaughtered again in short order.

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    Lots of possible inventory here. Including human meat. Heh heh.

    The treasure system is the usual “dress up” game, and there are loads of things you can equip. There are also set items, granting increasing bonuses as you equip the set; I’ve never been a big fan of set items. Either you find the items randomly (in which case by the time you find the set it’s too weak for your level), pick them up all at once (in which case the set is either awesome so you always use it always, killing a fun part of the game, or the set is useless and it’s all a waste of time), or the items are placed in the game (in which case you have to explore every tiny nook trying to find all the pieces, making the game a bit of a chore). Balrum leans towards the latter method, and it sort of works, mostly because the leveling is so slow (hours of play to get to 3rd level) that you don’t really outgrow items (and yes, items wear out through use, necessitating repairs).

    The combat is a little weak. Even low level monsters will have thousands of hit points (as do you), so the “one hit kills” that usually describe low level combat in RPGs don’t apply here. You’ll generally fight one monster at a time, which is just as well--even two first level wolves will overwhelm a second level character and pet. There are lots of little tricks and things you can do to help yourself in combat, or you can just whack the monster.

    While you’ll never one-hit a monster, there are lots of BAM-you’re-dead! traps around. Death comes often and quickly in the game, so do be sure to safe often, and don’t be ashamed of reloading if you simply take damage from a trap, as usually the damage is crippling enough (yes, you can break bones and have other maladies) that you won’t be able to survive the next fight.

    The game, incidentally, is mostly in real time. If you do nothing, crops will grow, time will pass, and other characters will wander around. In combat, everything shifts to turn based (but you’re still in the same world); it works quite well.

    The story has you figuring out what happened to some missing villagers, as well as solving other puzzles in the game. While you do get experience points for killing things, the vast majority comes from solving quests (10 ep for a monster, 400 for a quest, to give some idea). A journal keeps track of your quests, and usually the map will put a dot up giving you an idea where to go next. It’s a good enough system, and the story, even if not compelling, is easy enough to follow.

    Overall though, there’s just too much detail going on, and too little explanation. Balrum is presented as a sandbox game, where you have an open world to explore and do what you will with your character, but I honestly found the attention to detail excessive, subtracting from the fun and cutting me off from enjoyment instead of pulling me into the game world. Like so many games released today, Balum is a work in progress, and it’s quite possible the developers will refine things into a game more devoted to fun than to detail…but if you want an extremely detailed labor-of-love game, I concede Balum is the best I’ve seen in providing this sort of game (I just don’t think the market for such is quite so large). The game is quite playable, but what you get out of it very much depends on how much you’re willing to put into it, and, for me, I want a game more willing to turn loose of the fun. Bottom line, as sandbox games go, there’s just too much grit here.

    Overall rating: 69
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Balrum review by Rick Moscatello started by Doom View original post