The Last Earthbenders
Ever since I watched Avatar: The Last Airbender, I’ve wanted to play a game featuring a member of the Earth nation. Tossing around boulders, manipulating terrain, and generally being an earth-born badass seemed like the coolest idea ever. A game called Fracture — which came out on the Xbox 360 — had some terrain manipulation elements, but was otherwise a completely bland third-person shooter. Son of Nor attempts to set itself apart from the abject failures of terrain deformation games (all, like, three of them) of the past. Unfortunately, a colossally clumsy presentation and esoteric yet bland narrative make for a less than ideal experience. There’s also basically nobody playing the multiplayer.
You’re a titular Son of Nor (Nor being the goddess of night), a guardian of one of the last human settlements, called The Edge. Humans were nearly wiped out sometime in the past by the Sarahul, a reptilian race who worship the goddess of the sun, Lur. The humans escaped to The Edge and lived in relative safety until the Sarahul found them and began sieging the place. If the story sounds cliche so far, that’s because it is — I wanted to like the narrative, but many of the ideas just fall flat. For instance, you’re one of many Sons of Nor (who, by the way, CAN be male or female, as can the player character — yay diversity!), yet for some unknown (and perhaps unknowable) reason it’s decided that you alone should venture out and try to save the world. The narrative lacks any sort of cohesion or through-line, instead opting to be a playground for developer StillAlive Studios’ storytelling ideas.
The powers, though. Oh, man, the powers. Burying lizard dudes under mountains of rubble, building gigantic pillars of sand to jump off of — if you want to do it with Son of Nor’s powers, chances are you can. When the game starts, you’re limited to terraforming and telekinesis. Terraforming allows you to move sand and other malleable terrain, whereas Telekinesis grants the power to pick up objects (mostly stones and other miscellany) and toss them at enemies, or other rocks, or whatever you wanna throw stuff at. I dunno, I’m not gonna judge. If you wanna throw a rock at that statue’s buttcrack, I won’t hold it against you. You can even use sand as makeshift cover! Being bombarded by archers? Sand pillar! Big guy coming at you and you need him to not be coming at you anymore? Sand pillar! The powers are easily the coolest part of Son of Nor, which is why it bums me out that the player-versus-player is completely empty. I didn’t even get to try it!
I rant about this perhaps too much, but that’s one of the many problems with Early Access games: Players buy them, play them a ton, then put the game down and never come back to it when it’s eventually released. This is doubly true for a game like Son of Nor which has been in Early Access for the better part of a year — time moves on, other games come out, and people forget about ninety percent of what’s in their Steam library. Really, though, I just wish I could have messed around with the multiplayer. There are a ton of incredibly cool ideas at work herewith no cool place to use them outside of scripted campaign moments or the “proving ground,” which is essentially a challenge mode.
One of the neatest things about Son of Nor, however, is the complete lack of HUD or in-game user interface. Everything is in the world in some form or another, and pulling rocks off walls or raising and lowering sand feels intuitive, especially since your character has no mana bar or ability cooldowns. It’s a small touch, but it makes a profound impact on immersion when your screen isn’t being cluttered by objective reminders, quest logs, or hotbars.
When it comes down to it, Son of Nor is a game with myriad amazing ideas and no real idea how to implement them into a cogent experience. The old adage “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” is an apt description of Son of Nor — it’s a game that tries too many disparate things narratively, and only succeeds at a few of them. Mechanically, it’s an enjoyable experience, though I very much wish there were more interesting places to put your powers to use. Hopefully StillAlive’s next project is a more cohesive product, because the studio has some innovative chops as far as gameplay is concerned.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Viva Media; Developer: stillalive Studios; Players: 1-4 (Online) 1-2 (split-screen); Released: March 31, 2015 ; MSRP: $19.99