Artifex Mundi has carved out their own niche with the steady stream of casual point and click titles that have been arriving on Xbox One since September 2015. Nearly 20 months later, title number nine has appeared in which gamers can enter another fantastical world. By this point, regular players should know what to expect, but this isn't necessarily good. If you're looking for another simple adventure then you've come to the right place with Lost Grimoires: Stolen Kingdom, but with the standard of the titles that have come before it, there's something lacking with this one.
Players assume the role of a young alchemist. After her parents disappeared when she was young, she was taken in by a master alchemist and it is under his training that she will finish her studies. After returning home from university, nothing is what it used to be. The village is oppressed by the once adored king, with metal golems sent to enforce strict rules upon the villagers. Not only that, she finds a masked stranger prowling around her house. What is he searching for and how is this tied to her parents' disappearance?
Over the course of the next 2-4 hours, this is exactly what we find out in a story that is a little bare-bones and over a bit too quickly. The story is not completely predictable but the plot twists aren't surprising either. While the plot is sufficient enough for the game to function, there is little character development. You struggle to care about the good guys, while you also struggle to understand why the villains act quite as they do. As so much of the story hinges around these characters and their actions, the ensuing events more often trigger feelings of apathy. There are attempts to immerse the player into the story with conversation choices, but all this means is that you get to choose the order in which you have the conversation. You can't continue until you have exhausted all of the options, which really defeats the entire point.
She's obviously just arrived; this bedroom is far too tidy for a teenager.
With the story not holding up as well, it's up to the gameplay to keep things ticking along. As usual, there is standard point and click gameplay mixed with hidden object games and puzzles. Even though the usual selection of hidden object puzzles are present, there seems to be a lesser number of them than in a normal Artifex Mundi title, helping the title to be over quicker than it would be normally. At one point, there is a tantalising glimpse of a third, new type of puzzle where players must solve riddles to work out the objects for which they need to search, but this happens at just one point in the game and feels like a missed opportunity to add even more variety to the gameplay.
As usual, players have a variety of puzzles to solve aside from the hidden object scenes. The trusty skip function can move you onwards so that your story never grinds to a halt, but the only way that you'll ever want to use it is out of impatience more than confusion. Even by Artifex Mundi's standards, the majority of the puzzles are incredibly easy and rarely require much thought. New to this title is the alchemist's guide that allows players to use transmutation to combine objects that they've found, an action performed by completing a matching puzzle. While combining objects is not a unique mechanic to the adventure genre, and it's one that has been simplified to fit in with the game's tone, it's a more promising sign of attempts to innovate away from the usual formula.
One of the longer and more complicated puzzles
The map grows larger as players progress through the story but this is more of an aesthetic change than an increase in playable area. Progress is in a linear fashion where scenes are blocked off at key points in the story, meaning that it is impossible to return to certain locations. You can travel between the current locations at leisure, but there is never more than four or five scenes active at one time. The positive aspect to this is that none of the hidden object scenes are ever used more than once and you don't get scene fatigue. The negative is that basic puzzles are made far easier because found objects are almost always used immediately.
Between the lesser number of hidden object scenes, easier puzzles and linear progression, even the game's Expert difficulty is not as much of a challenge as before. There is a longer hint recharge, a reduced number of hints and a penalty for too many incorrect clicks during hidden object scenes, although none of these were ever used or triggered during the initial playthrough. The shame is that the added difficulty is the only thing that adds replayability to the title. There is no alternative option to the hidden object games, like mahjong or dominoes, and there is no bonus chapter for the first time in an Artifex Mundi title.
You still need to find that whistle - no dominoes for you
The only good news about the lack of replayability is that just a single playthrough is required to earn all of the achievements. The list should come as no surprise. You'll need to make sure you play on Expert difficulty, don't skip any of the mini games and don't use any hints in the hidden object scenes. The final achievements are attached to the game's collectibles, the kestrels, which serve no purpose other than to unlock the achievements. Unfortunately, if you miss one before progressing past a point of no return, you'll need to start a new playthrough to be able to retrieve it, although collectible progress is combined between all playthroughs.
SummaryAfter a great run of titles, Lost Grimoires: Stolen Kingdom doesn't quite match up to the standard of those that have gone before it. The gameplay will be extremely familiar to Artifex Mundi fans by now and it still holds up, but there are less hidden object puzzles than usual and the puzzles are a bit too easy. Replayability is much reduced thanks to a lack of an alternative to hidden object games and no bonus chapter. When combined with a story that doesn't engage the player as much as it should, the whole experience is shortened. Hopefully, when the sequel appears on consoles, the few new features in this title help the series to blossom into a more worthwhile experience.
- New transmutation feature is promising
- Gameplay still holds up
- Puzzles are too easy
- No extra chapter
- No alternative to hidden object games
EthicsThe reviewer spent just under four hours charging through the game on Expert difficulty, only having to replay the first chapter of the game thanks to a single kestrel. She earned all 13 of the game's achievements. An Xbox One code was provided by the ID@Xbox team for the purpose of this review.
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