Developer: Deck 13 Entertainment
Publisher: Atari/Rombax Games
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: 01/11/2010
Last week I gave my first impressions on a very under the radar action RPG from Germany known as Venetica. I was only a few hours in, but I found the game pretty enjoyable up to that point. Now that I’ve logged thirty hours into the game, it’s time to see if my first impressions were on the money, or if this is a game that best served as an example as to why a studio that mainly does point and click adventure games shouldn’t move into a more action oriented genre?
Venetica takes place in a slightly fantastical version of our own world. You play as Scarlet, an unwilling and unlikely hero who learns that her father is in fact, the Grim Reaper himself. Unfortunately you learn this after a group of five necromancers puts out a hit on Scarlet, razing her village to the ground and killing most of the townsfolk, including her fiancée and true love, Benedict. Whoops. Now knowing that she possesses hitherto unknown supernatural powers due to her lineage, including the ability to wield the moonblade (the sickle/scythe of Death), Scarlet sets out on a journey from her town in San Pasquale to the city of Venice and then to Africa and beyond.
Saying that the world of Venetica is huge is slightly an understatement. We’re talking a game that has a world on par with that of a Grand Theft Auto game or Just Cause 2. It’s kind of an Elder Scrolls game in the respect that the world is huge, you have to mark quests specifically on your map to get them to show up and you have to walk nearly everywhere. However, the story is a pretty unique one. Sure we’ve seen Death itself have in a kid in games like ugh… Death Jr., but this one take it to a whole other level. I’m a fan of games where the story revolves around political intrigue and Venetica is chock full of that. There are conspiracies, betrayals, shadowy plots and nefarious schemes. You also get to actually role-play Scarlet and determine her motivation, her moral code (or lack thereof) and the like. You’ll even join one of three guilds which gives you access to exclusive content. There are also three distinct endings to the game, which means between the endings and the guilds, you’re going to have to beat Venetica three times to see all the game has to offer. Finally, there are close to 100 sub-quests in the game, so you can always run off and pad your play time (and levels) by doing all the extra quests in the game.
Overall, I really enjoyed the cast of Venetica. The characters were well written, had a lot of definition to them, but most importantly, the world felt like Renaissance period Europe and that was a big plus for me.
Story Rating: Good
In a day and age where even a lot of high budget games are only in 720p, I was kind of shocked to see Venetica was in full 1080i/p. Unfortunately the game is also two years old (and primarily designed as a PC game), so the graphics can be a bit dated. As well, the graphic style is very much what you see in a lot of German developed games, meaning that character models are slightly cartoony on purpose, rather than extremely realistic, which has become the norm. As such, gamers might be a bit put off by the character designs, but I found them to be excellent. There’s a lot of detail, even to NPCs and Scarlet looks especially great.
Backgrounds however, are a mixed bag. The world of Venetica during the day is quite beautiful. Again, the graphics are two years old, but the city looks stunning and much like the real Venice during the time this game is supposed to take place in. Colours are bold and vibrant and there’s a lot of detail although there can be some jaggies to the game if you don’t have your PS3 formatted for anti-aliasing (Much like a PC game…). At night though the game can be quite hard to make things out in as it can be black blobs on black blobs if you don’t have a lantern going. Even then, the lantern just makes things green instead of black. This can be frustrating, but you can always sleep the night away save for a few specific battles or story points. I definitely preferred the game during the day for visual reasons, although ticking just to the light prevents a lot of random battles with the rogue guild or even some corrupt city guardsman. The inside of buildings are well done…until you realize nearly every house is exactly the same layout wise with only decorations and an occasional battle to separate them.
Dungeons and the Twilight world (The land of the dead) is another mixed bag. Monsters are generally large and slightly mutated versions of real creatures when you actually encounter them, which is fine and keeps with the quasi-realism of the game. With dungeons, you can have some lighting issues that are very similar to the outer world at night. With the Twilight World, the characters/monsters you encounter there are nicely done, but the background is kind of a dull plain with a horrible yellow/green/puce coloring. I get why they did it, but it’s still visually unappealing.
So the game looks great during the day, and can be a bit hard to navigate at night. Character models are well done for the specific art style they were going for, but probably won’t be to everyone’s liking and the game looks good for a 2009 indie title when it originally came out in Germany, but not for a 2011 release. I liked the visuals, but I also play a LOT of European developed games. What’s here is nice, but you can tell this isn’t Deck 13’s usual genre and it won’t be for everyone.
Graphics Rating: Enjoyable
One of the things I thought was odd was that we have characters from Spain, England, Africa, Persia, Italy and other regions, but the vast majority of characters had a posh British accent to them. Now I’m fine with that, because honestly, how many games actually get accents correct – even with big budgeted releases? Besides, the voice acting is very well done, especially for an indie game, so I’m happy to let the accent issue pass. Scarlett’s voice is great, Death manages to sound detached from the mortal world without being monotone and yet concerned for the fate of humanity. I never encountered a character whose voice acting I didn’t enjoy and that includes the generic NPCs that litter the city of Venice.
Sound effects are well done too, Each of your four weapon styles (Warhammer, Sword, Sickle, Spear) sound distinct from each other and things that you can break also give off different sound effects, based on what they are. You’ll occasionally hear Scarlet huff and puff if you run for a long distance and I was impressed how things like the sound of gulls or armored feet on cobblestone streets could be heard distinctly. The music is pretty nice, but nothing to write home about. It’s your typical high fantasy score and it fits the game well even if you won’t be clamoring for a soundtrack release anytime soon.
This is another area of Venetica I really found myself enjoying. Compared to a lot of other budget games I’ve played through, Venetica does a better job with aural aspects than a lot of high profile titles.
Sound Rating: Good
4. Control and Gameplay
Let’s get this out of the way right now – Venetica plays very much like a PC RPG. Now I don’t mean something like Neverwinter Nights or Diablo where you point and click your way through things. I mean this game is very much like Fallout 3, Morrowind or Oblivion in terms of controls, gameplay and progression. Did you like any of those three games I mentioned on your console? Then you’ll like this. Were you not able to adjust to that style of RPG? Then you won’t.
In my playthrough of Venetica, I encountered a whopping three bugs. The first was a character floating in midair by a fountain, the second is that the game’s frame rate gets a bit choppy for the first few seconds when you enter a new area, and the third was that my game crashed once when I opened a lock, but as the game autosaves every time you enter a new location or a major story bit occurs, you’ll be fine if something similar happens to you.. That’s it. I’m pretty impressed that this is all I encountered, especially since several reviews are out there proclaiming the game to be incredibly buggy. However those bugs seem to be limited to the Xbox 360 version of the Venetica as the PS3 version has very little. In fact, the game is basically a less buggy Morrowind, but with less customization and a smaller world.
Gameplay is pretty simple. You can get through the game hacking and slashing at opponents for the most part, but trying that against multiple enemies will get you killed quickly, so you’re going to have learn to dodge and block. Each weapon has its own strength and weakness, and some enemies take more damage from one than another, so a lot of it is finding out what you play best with. I basically switched between the sword and the sickle for the majority of the game.
Controls are fairly easy. The left stick controls your movement and the right stick controls the camera, but there’s no auto correction or the ability to snap the camera back by clicking the stick down, so that may frustrate some gamers. R1 causes you to draw or sheath your weapon. Note that when you talk to someone or die, your weapon gets sheath, so remember to draw it! Again, this might annoy some gamers, but this thing really is meant to feel like a AD&D solo campaign, and I liked that touch of realism. X is your attack button, square is your dodge button, and R2 lets you quick select through your weapons. The arrow buttons and the O button are your special skills such as magic, blocking or powerful attacks. Note that the option for dynamic quick slots are turned off by default, but you really should turn them on as you can then have customized quick slots for each weapon selection. Note that the O button stays uniform and that each weapon has their own block skill, so DON’T but a block skill as an O or you’ll constantly have to update things.
Another interesting thing about the game is Twilight. If you die and you have enough Twilight Energy stored up, you get to come back as a ghost and can resurrect someplace else within a certain timelight. I generally use this to get behind an enemy, draw my weapon and swing as I resurrect so I can do double damage via a stealth attack. If you die without Twilight energy, you stay dead and have to reload. Honestly, I never had that happen in a playthrough. I did die against the second legh of a boss fight as I tried to figure out what I was supposed to do (The second stage of boss fights play more platformer or 3-D action game esque as you have to hit certain body parts at certain times while dodging enemy attacks), but the game starts you back off at the start of the second stage, so no worries. You collect Twilight energy by killing things with your sickle. If you’re used to this style of game at all, you should be fine. I never even needed to use a healing item thanks to a magic spell that drains life from my enemies and as that nets you a gold trophy, (Not using a healing item in the entire game, not the spell), that was an unexpected bonus.
Finally, there is navigating through the world. Like most PC style action RPGs, you’re on your own. You have to find your way around and figure puzzles and/or quests out. You can highlight a quest in your journal to have a location point show up on your map, but if you don’t do this, hey – no location point. This is fairly common for this style of game so REMEMBER TO DO IT. As well, you have a spell where a Raven can guide you to your location destination, but remember that the raven won’t stop as you putz around and it flies where you walk, so it will take the most direct route while you might not be able to.
Overall, my experiences with playing Venetica was pretty much the experiences I had with any Elder Scrolls game. You customize your character’s stats, her skills, magic and power, and the game is pretty open ended and you can actually role play choices. Sure there’s a main storyline that you have to follow, but the most annoying thing in the game is when you have an NPC on a staircase you are trying to get up and it refuses to move. However that’s common for this style of game and is a pet peeve of mine even in 2-D RPGs. I had a lot of fun with Venetica and if you tend to like PC RPGs or Bethseda titles, you’ll most likely enjoy the control scheme and engine in this game.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Enjoyable
As mentioned earlier, you have complete customization over your character save for appearance. You have three guilds that you can choose from, many different dialogue options and three endings based on your alignment (which is never actually outright shown in the game – something I really enjoyed). You can get at least three playthroughs of Venetica and still discover new story bits and for a full length RPG at a budget price, that’s pretty damn good. Venetica has a big world and the main story can be quite linear, but that’s true of most open world games and this is no exception.
I know Venetica is a game I’ll pick up again several times and it’s definitely better than even some big budget RPG titles in the same genre like Untold Kingdoms for the PS3. I was impressed by the amount of content here, especially since Deck 13 primarily makes Adventure games.
Replayability Rating: Enjoyable
Combat has a wide range of difficulty. Generally you’ll get through one on one battles pretty easy, but even that has exceptions when creatures like the Gripper Queen come into play. This is why rolling and blocking can be just as important as hack and slash. As well, if you don’t pay attention, you can easily get surrounded by even cannon fodder and taken down. This is why it’s very important to collect and make good use of Twilight energy. However, Twilight makes everything but boss fights pretty easy because you’re basically getting multiple lives. Then if you add in magic spells that give you health back or an insanely expensive magic ring of regeneration, and you should be able to survive anything but boss fights without encountering permanent death.
Boss fights however are another story. The first round of boss fights are basically a puzzle as you have to figure out how to kill your enemy outside of straight combat. The second round is on the Twilight plane where you do get to hack and slash, but it involves timing and hitting the enemy is certain weak points. In all, Venetica offers a degree of challenge, and you’ll certainly die against a boss once or twice as you try and figure out the pattern you need to follow, but most of the challenge comes from remember to play defensively and not get surrounded when enemies attack en masse.
Balance Rating: Enjoyable
This is probably the area where the game is at its worst. Sure the story is a neat hook, but the game is pretty much your standard fare PC style action RPG. The game feels like an Elder Scrolls title, and plays like a generic RPG complete with stats and skill trees. That’s not to say it isn’t a fun game – far from it. It’s more like you can tell Venetica is an RPG made by an Adventure game company – a genre that focuses on story over gameplay – and so Deck 13 stuck to a more basic engine while having a pretty interesting story to keep the gamer going through the fetch quests, hack and slash and the occasional puzzle to solve. The good thing is that the game feels familiar enough that anyone can pick it up and enjoy it, but unique enough that the story will keep them curious as to what happens next. Sure the game isn’t that original from a gamer perspective, but it’s a pretty outside the box attempt for Deck 13. The game’s not going to win any awards for innovation, but it’s still a nice little budget RPG that you’ll have fun with if you plunk the money down for it.
Originality Rating: Poor
I really got sucked into Venetica, but I usually do with open world RPGs. I’m the kind of guy that tries to complete all the sidequests I discover before moving on to do the main storyline in fear I’m miss something cool or that I can’t go back and do a quest at some point. Regardless, I liked the story and character enough that I’d have kept playing even if this was a linear action RPG. It’s definitely a game I know I’ll be coming back to try and see the other endings and/or guild quests and although it’s by no means a great game, it’s still a fun indie game I’m glad I had the chance to play. Even after I write this review I’ll probably go back to it for a bit just to finish a few loose ends. What can I say? I’ve been a big fan of open world RPGs since I was fiddling with the first Fallout. This pushes all the right buttons for me and as graphics aren’t a big deal to me since I’ve been playing games for 30+ years now, Venetica has been all I had hoped it would be – a fun budget action RPG.
Addictiveness Rating: Good
9. Appeal Factor
Oddly enough, I’ve had a lot of friends and readers ay they were hoping I’d review this/wanting to see my final thoughts on the game, which shows that there’s definitely interest in Venetica. People like their sandbox like open world RPGs where you have dialog choices and actual role-playing moments, and Venetica is one of those games that does all that with a budget MSRP. Did you like Morrowind or Oblivion? Well, Venetica is just an uglier, cheaper and less buggy version of those games. But of course Rombax and Deck 13 are tiny companies so of course you’ll see “reviewers” badmouth the game. Where’s the swag and advertising money going to those sites and publications? Did you like Fallout 3? Same style, less bugs. Again though, Bethseda has money and a name franchise so you won’t see people dare to criticize it because hey, those faux journalists know where their money and review copies come from and Cthulhu forbid they bite the hand of their corporate masters.
Honestly, if you like action RPGs like the ones I named in the above paragraph, you’ll like this. If you don’t mind a little bit of jag to the graphics, you’ll like this. If you’re willing to step outside what the mainstream media or television ads tell you to buy based on advertising dollars, you’ll like this. It won’t be your favorite game of all time. Hell it might not even be a keeper – but it’s a fun little action RPG that you’ll get several dozen hours out of. That’s what counts.
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Out of the four games released in 2011 I’ve covered so far (Prinny 2, Sherlock Holmes and Ogre Tactics, Venetica is actually the one I’ve had the most fun with and spent the most time playing. Granted things would be different if I hadn’t played the original OT a dozen times or so and I wasn’t less than impressed with all the icky changes made to the PSP remake, but it is in fact so. It’s a fun little budget RPG, no more and no less, and It’s definitely one I had fun with. Seem that’s what counts. It doesn’t matter if a game has 1080i/p visuals or 3-D graphics. It doesn’t matter if the game has super famous actors providing character voices or is the latest churned out sequel in some major franchise from a major publisher. All that matters is that you feel you got your money’s worth out of a game and that you enjoyed the experience. Did I enjoy Venetica? You’re damn right I did. Did I get my forty bucks worth? Ditto. I enjoyed Venetica. At the end of the day that’s what matters. It’s a game I can recommend even if it’s not the prettiest or the cleanest running, but it’s fun and I know several of my staff and even more of my friends will enjoy it if they pick it up. So after reading all this, then by all means, pick it up. You’ll be supporting a small German development company and an even smaller North American publisher that Atari is helping out on this, its first US release. If you like it then consider it money well spent.
Miscellaneous Rating: Good
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Appeal Factor: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
Venetica is a fun little budget action RPG. It’s not the prettiest, but it offers a lot of character customization, a very large open world to play in, and an interesting story to keep you hooked while you run through a ton of subquests. It has a very old school 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons feel, right down to having to learn skills from mentors rather than spontaneously being able to unleash arcane forces upon your enemy. It’s definitely not for a gamer that needs their hand held, but If you like games like Morrowind, Dark Alliance or other action RPGs of that nature, you’ll definitely get your $39.99 worth out of Venetica.