It seems a lot of the best indie games of 2016 have decided to move from the computer to console this year. I reviewed Stardew Valley’s port to the PS4 recently, and have now had the chance to look at another indie titan: Portal Knights. I’ve not played the PC version, but it was on my wishlist for a long while, so I was quite excited to give it a try.
Simple and beautiful
These days, character creation is in every game, with each one trying to implement a different way. Far too many decide to go far too detailed, offering ridiculous levels of customisation that may be cool, but definitely aren’t required for the game. Keen Games, the developer of Portal Knights, have hit the nail right on the head with what they offered. The characters in Portal Knights are quite cutesy, but remain fairly basic. This means that the customisation options are limited to the features that you actually would want to change. Eye shape, hair colour and the like are all included. They’ve not included ridiculous ones like nostril size, or fingernail length. It gives you enough to create a character you feel is unique and represents you well, without taking hours and hours to get it right. It’s perfectly balanced and meant I wasn’t left skipping pages and pages of character customisation before I could get into the game.
Portal Knights has been compared quite regularly to Minecraft, but with a story and survival elements and I have to say it works really well. The story is a bit background at times, but it does guide you through fairly well. Slightly unintentionally, I took a very relaxed view of the story, and instead was far more interested in building stuff. I wanted to see how it would stack up to Minecraft in this regard. I could never really get anything to look quite as I wanted it in Minecraft, despite hours and hours of trying. With Portal Knights however, I was able to create houses that looked like actual buildings and not horrifying concrete monoliths plucked straight out of a dystopian nightmare. Not only did my home look like a nice place to live on the outside, but I was able to furnish it with a massive selection of items as well, to give it that real ‘lived in’ feel. I wouldn’t say there are more possibilities with the building than in Minecraft, but it definitely felt a lot more satisfying when I was building things.
I am a bit of a sucker for animals. I’ve recently had a cat visit me and I can’t say no to it. Unfortunately, this rings true when I’m playing games as well, and as soon as I found out I could have a pet in the game, I was right on it. There are several different types of pets to play with – cats, frogs, birds and other creatures. All of them are adorable and serve no real purpose other than look cute, but I couldn’t help myself trying to get the cutest pet of the couple dozen available to the player.
Despite loving the idea of pets, and thoroughly enjoying having a little cat follow me around, they have been pretty poorly implemented. Saying they’re stupid is probably the biggest understatement one could make. They’re frequently in the way, not only of the player, but of the camera as well. The bigger ones have a habit of being a bit camera-whorey and standing exactly where you don’t want them to be. Annoying at the best of times, but infuriating when you’re trying to tackle one of the beefier monsters around the multiverse.
Occasionally, while doing various things, I did feel like I’d missed a message or something. I didn’t really know exactly what I was supposed to be doing, and would roam around until I could figure out where it was I needed to be. This was rare, but happened enough to be an annoyance, but not as annoying as I found the second world. After slaughtering all the blobs around town, I had apparently collected enough shards to create a portal. The blobs weren’t so much of a challenge, and I had already fallen through the planet enough times, so I figured the next area was a good idea. Have to admit, not one of my finest ideas. Immediately after stepping into this new world, I was assaulted by some beast who was determined to flambé me. Fortunately for him, and unfortunately for me, he was able to complete his task in two hits. Having played the game for an hour and done what I thought the game had wanted me to do, I was a little taken aback. It felt like I’d been thrust into a challenging and punishing world, a stark contrast to the serene opening world.
The Final Word
Despite being slightly put off after the initial world change, I did quite get into the Portal Knights. It reminds me a lot of Dragon’s Quest Builders, which was a game in a very similar vein. A decent story plopped into a Minecraft-esque world where you can build whatever your brain can conjure up. What this game has over Stardew Valley is that it actually feels like a console game. If you were to tell me that it was originally made for consoles I’d have believed you. It doesn’t feel like a port at all, and it plays extremely well. It is absolutely gorgeous, and provides hours and hours of solid gameplay as well, so there is a lot going for the game.