Party like it’s 1991
DISCLAIMER: I never finished Lords of Xulima. There’s simply too much game here, and I didn’t have enough time. There is supposedly 150+ hours of content, and if the approximately 25 hours I played are any indication, the entire game is worth seeing.
When designing Lords of Xulima, it’s almost certain that developer Numantian Games asked themselves one question: “What would classic cRPGs do?” Following in the steps of Legend of Grimrock and the more recent Divinity: Original Sin, Lords of Xulima feels right at home with the likes of Might and Magic and Ultima.
Upon starting up Xulima, I was given one mandatory main character, Gaulen, and made to create five more from scratch. There are a handful of classes, deity alignments, and the rest of the regular cRPG trappings, along with some frankly hysterical character portraits. My Bard looked like a cartoon David Hasselhoff aged thirty years, so I named him Hasselhoff (at least, he looked like Hasselhoff at the time; I’m beginning to suspect I was inebriated). One nice thing is that after selecting my class and alignment, I was given a choice between two starting weapons for that class — for Wizards it’s short swords or staves, for Rogues it’s daggers or bows, etc. Where most games would have given me one of the two weapons and expected me to find the other later, or — in the less common, but arguably lazier case — given me none of them and conveniently placed a chest or satchel a short distance into the first area (a la Baldur’s Gate II).
After creating my party, I was presented with a cinematic in which a god named Golot instructs Gaulen to restore balance to Xulima, where four apparently evil princes have all but enslaved the denizens, essentially claiming themselves tyrants. Golot’s monologue is rather cryptic and confusing, with talk of Soul Guardians gaining power over the Lords of Xulima, and some exposition that honestly reminded me of the first few minutes of Kingdom Hearts, and — now that I think about it — all of Kingdom Hearts II. The story (for me at least) takes a back seat to what makes these kinds of games so incredible: the exploration. I’m sure it’s a worthwhile and interesting narrative, but it presents with a sense of generic ambivalence seemingly pervasive in this genre of games.
Xulima is a fantastically big place, and I never came close to seeing it all. I ultimately spent the bulk of my time exploring and doing side quests; I didn’t even finish the main story (in retrospect, perhaps I should work on my time management). It’s unfortunate that Lords of Xulima attempted to funnel me into doing the main quest — which it only half-succeeded at, by the way — by placing incredibly difficult encounters at key points, barring my access until I’d finished the story quests for those areas; I really enjoyed the exploration and combat, and I would have liked to be able to have less linearity. It’s doubly unfortunate that the game is billed as decidedly non-linear, when from my time with it, that is absolutely not the case — it does open up after a certain point, but it’s sort of like calling Final Fantasy XIII non-linear because after twenty hours you’re able to explore a small part of Gran Pulse. At any rate, exploring is tense and uncertain, with the presence of a food meter that slowly ticked down as I walked around. A counter near the bottom of the interface shows how much food is left, but buying or looting food was the only way I could find to increase my supplies. In addition, different types of terrain affect both movement speed and food consumption; moving through snow, for instance, doubles food consumption and halves walking speed. The latter seems entirely unnecessary, given that food consumption increases, and the fact that I already thought movement was incredibly slow on regular terrain like grass or stone paths. Ultimately, I found the food mechanic to be totally superfluous and just another method of tethering me to within acceptable range of where Lords of Xulima wanted me to go.
Combat in Lords of Xulima is nothing spectacular or unique, but it is well-designed, and it is challenging — Xulima as a whole is very punishing. It’s similar in presentation to Might and Magic games of yore, but more akin to Legend of Grimrock in mechanical execution. Characters wielding melee weapons can only attack enemies within their immediate forward field of view, and characters in the back row can only attack the front row if they are equipped with a spear or a ranged weapon. It’s a somewhat tired formula, but it’s effective and simple to understand. If a character happens to die in combat, resting can resurrect them. I’m not really sure how that’s supposed to work — at one point, my bard died, so I just slept for a day and Hasselhoff was with me again. Also, the combat animations are deeply unsettling; the game runs at 60 frames per second, but the animations look like they’re straight out of the Nintendo 64.
Ultimately, Lords of Xulima leans perhaps too hard into emulating classic cRPGs. Most of it is well-designed, but at a $20 price point, it’s obviously going to lack the polish of a game like Divinity: Original Sin. It’s not an unenjoyable game by any stretch; it is, however, an incredible niche experience. For real, though: You need to see the combat animations. They look like a dungeon master made the animatronics at Chuck-E-Cheese.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PC (reviewed) ; Publisher: Numantian Games; Developer: Numantian Games; Players: 1; Released: November 14, 2014; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $19.99
This review is based on a review copy of Lords of Xulima provided by the publisher.