In the wake of sandbox successes like Minecraft and Terraria, 505 Games and Keen Games have capitalized on the genre’s lack of structure. Portal Knights combines the endless possibility of a sandbox game with the structure and customization of an RPG. You start as a Portal Knight, tasked with maintaining the peace of endless randomly generated worlds, with buildings and NPC’s with different agendas. You fight mini-bosses and enemies across the map in order to collect portal stones which will lead you to the next world. Which in turn is filled with more NPC’s, enemies and possibilities. This combination idea however does not, to my mind at least, hide the fact that the game is extremely derivative of Minecraft, both of which employ cube based worlds full of destructible objects that can be crafted into new things.
The core game is fun. You can do anything. You can spend time building a house, or leveling up your gear, or killing monsters, or moving on to the next world. All whilst battling a changing variety of monsters in each world. Come night the monsters get harder. Which helps you level up. Or you die, and end up starting the world over. However, there seems to be a lack of structure to the core story, which is what seems to set it apart from its obvious competitor, Minecraft. It is difficult to avoid comparisons between the two games.
The way that the games work are fundamentally the same. There are, however, key differences that must not be overlooked. Firstly, the combat system in Portal Knights is much more robust. It involves three distinct classes, Warrior, Ranger, and Mage, each of whom have different skillsets and different leveling trees. Combat also involves a targeting system, which allows you to track the movements of enemies and dodge at the right moment. However, this system can be frustrating at times, particularly if there are multiple enemies. It also feels too basic that the targeting system immediately sends your attacks in the right direction. This level of combat leaves you wanting, craving something more nuanced. It can be fun, and sending enemies fleeing on low health is a fulfilling experience. But it lacks the nuance of a good RPG’s combat system.
Graphically, Portal Knights excels. The aesthetic is playful, seeming to walk the line between Little Big Planet’s mindless fun, and Minecraft’s cubism. The character customization is good, with enough choices to make each character distinct, but not overbearing to the point where you spend half an hour just picking how your character looks. Each world looks unique too, though seems to employ single habitat worlds, like snow world, desert world, or grass world. This however is excusable in order to maintain individual difference.
The story is spartan. The problem with randomly generated worlds is that it makes it difficult to create a story based sequence. How do you make level design that incorporates story if you maintain that each world is different from player to player. This is a difficult tightrope to walk, and whilst I applaud 505 Games for trying it, and pushing the boundaries of two genres, it simply hasn’t worked as intended here. The story has been sacrificed here at the expense of the sandbox, which leaves it too much in the wake of Minecraft rather than being the game that it desires to be, namely one that combines the sandbox and RPG genres.
Portal Knights gets a 7/10.
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Portal Knights is available for purchase now on Steam for PC, PS4 and Xbox One for $29.99 at physical retail and $19.99 digitally.