Review: Silverfall (PC)


Sliverfall
Genre: Action RPG/Dungeon Hack
Developer: Monte Cristo
Publisher: Atari
Release Date: 3/27/07

The hack and slash. The dungeon hack. The action RPG. The “Diablo” game. The “Rogue” game. All are descriptions that are applied to the 3/4 isometric view action RPG genre, and all are wholly appropriate. Since the critical and financial success of Diablo and Diablo 2, both of which owe their existence in part to the game Rogue, many, many developers have tried to replicate what made those games successful, with variable success. Games like Baldur’s Gate (and the Dark Alliance series), Titan’s Quest, Champions of Norrath, Dungeon Siege, Fate, and many others have done the genre justice in many respects in the decade since Diablo’s initial debut, with more to undoubtedly come. Sadly, many others (off the top of my head, Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel and the eighty billion Korean MMO’s that all play like Ragnarok Online, itself a semi-Diablo clone) fail to properly replicate the Diablo experience properly, generally either because they do too much to change it, or do too little to replicate what made the concept great.

I mean, come on. You run around, murder every evil thing you see, and customize the hell out of your character. Doesn’t seem so hard, does it?

Which brings us to Silverfall. It, too, is a Diablo clone. It, too, attempts to do new things while retaining older elements. Does it succeed and join the ranks of the group of good games, or does it fail and besmirch the genre? Let’s take a look.


1. STORY


You start the game in a tutorial mode, playing as an uber-mage as the city of Silverfall crumbles around you. This is largely meant as a combination of storyline explanation and an introduction to the game’s controls, and it does this acceptably enough; you’re left with a vague idea of what’s going on, but no specific interest in any of it. From there you’re put in control of whatever character you’ve created, and you’re tasked with various quests that involve trying to retake Silverfall/ensure the survival of the people/saving the world/etc.

And that’s essentially the problem: everything in Silverfall is very typical, rote, and uninspired. You could literally throw a dart at a wall populated with other dungeon hacks and hit a game with a more interesting story than Silverfall. The narrative is bland, the characters are uninteresting, the story feels like one giant strong of stereotypes, and the writing is uninspired. Granted, this sort of game really doesn’t NEED a great story or anything, but compared to Dungeon Siege, Titan Quest, or hell, Diablo 2, Silverfall just does nothing to make you care about what’s going on to the extent any of the aforementioned titles did. It never resonates, it never catches you, and ultimately, you’re never really in a position to care.

And that’s just a shame.

Story Rating: 3/10


2. GRAPHICS


The graphics in Silverfall are easily the single greatest thing the game has to offer. Game environments are generally pretty, if generic, but that’s not what makes the game visually appealing. No, what makes the game so nice to look at are the cell-shaded characters and monsters; not only are they absolutely gorgeous, they’re very detailed and well animated. Your own characters generally start out looking somewhat generic, but as they collect various pieces of spiffy equipment they become cool looking death tanks of the first order. The monsters themselves, besides looking good in general, are also pretty neat in some cases; while you’re going to see the standard assortments of goblins, zombies and such you’d expect, you’ll also have to contend with things like goblins with wheels for legs and giant, animate trees. Granted, one would expect this thing, considering the hefty system requirements, but even so, Silverfall is a very pretty game, and if graphics were the sole defining characteristic by which games could be judged, it would be a must-own based on that alone.

Graphics Rating: 8/10


3. SOUND

Silverfall sounds as you would expect it to, which is both boon and bane. The music is your standard Lord of the Rings inspired orchestral melodies, and while they’re good enough to support the product as far as need be done, they’re not anything exciting or special. The voice acting is generally mediocre: good enough that you won’t want to gouge your own eardrums out, but not so good as to be enjoyable. The sound effects mimic spell casting and steel-on-steel combat perfectly fine, but are generally not too special or anything. All told, the aural quality of Silverfall is strictly “average”: it gets the job done well enough, but does nothing you wouldn’t expect and isn’t terribly exciting or memorable.

Sound Rating: 5/10


4. CONTROL/GAMEPLAY

All of the heavy descriptive review and superlatives I can cram in here can be simply made unnecessary by describing the gameplay with one simple two word sentence that will most likely tell you everything you need to know:

It’s Diablo.


Silverfall plays identically to every one of the dungeon hacks of the past decade and a half. Move with the mouse, click on enemies to kill them dead, level up your skill tree, the whole bit, it’s all wholly familiar territory if you’ve played this sort of game, well, ever. Now, this works in Silverfall’s favor because it’s essentially familiar territory; who doesn’t love going into the bowels of a dungeon and forcefully liberating shiny new trinkets from monstrous foes all in the name of looking like a badass? In this respect, Silverfall feels quite familiar. Click and kill, use your potions with the keyboard, you know the drill. Some of the hotkey placement is… odd, but this is a minor concern that’s easy to adjust to, and you’ll find yourself getting into things in no time.

Silverfall does a few other things well in the gameplay department, too, that allow it to keep up with its contemporaries. There are a ton of skills one may dump points into, so that instead of simply picking a template for your character to progress along, as in most hack-and-slash titles, you can be much more liberal with your choices and build a character that appeals to your style of play. You’re also offered the choice of aligning with Nature or Technology as you play, by various choices you make through the game; this alignment allows you access to abilities and equipment that are more powerful than your standard options, which is certainly cool enough. You’re also offered multiple traveling companions to choose from as you play through the game, something that many games in the genre seem to neglect, which is always good to have. Also, in a surprising but pleasant move, Sliverfall eschews the standard design of repopulating zones with the same crappy enemies you’ve slayed before, instead choosing to scale up the levels of the enemies (to a point) as you level up, thus always providing a challenge to the player (as well as quality gear and experience points). And of course, Silverfall offers a full online component, which is sufficiently fleshed out for the sort of game it is, though it tends to be laggy more often than not.


Unfortunately, all of the good things Silverfall does are incapable of making the game worth investing any time in due to the not-so-good things that it does, which are legion. Pathfinding is spotty; sometimes it works, sometimes you’re wandering into an enemy ambush you were trying to avoid by taking the “scenic route”. The Everquest death system (when you die, your corpse retains all of your gear, leaving you to go retrieve it) is acceptable, but the mechanics involved in it (allies who bite it return to town with you fully clothed, the game refuses to re-equip your gear when you find your body, etc) make it a hassle. The automap flat-out sucks; the arrow on the map points in the direction the camera is facing, not your character, which is thoroughly confusing, and important NPC’s are in no way, shape, or form distinguished from one another, so you’re left wandering about town hoping to find the RIGHT green or white dot out of all the ones presented. NPC ally death is a pain in the ass, not because they’re difficult to resurrect (they’re not) but because the game never TELLS you how to do it (go to a major city or buy the resurrection spell with skill points, for the record)… which wouldn’t be so bad except that your allies aren’t so good at keeping themselves alive without your aid. And, perhaps most tellingly, you can choose to dump points into various skills, as I’ve noted, but dumping every point you can into Elemental Shot (a free magical projectile attack) makes the game substantially easier than trying to play the game normally.

The largest complaint one can levy against Silverfall, however, is that it’s boring. The genre has spawned countless other titles which are more interesting to play, either because their gameplay mechanics work or because they are simply designed in a more interesting fashion. Silverfall, unfortunately, plays like every other game that has preceded it, and offers very little of interest to draw the player into it beyond the desire to pimp your character. This might be enough for you if that’s the only reason you play these sorts of games, but for most, you’d be better served playing one of the billions of other games that have done the exact same thing, only better.

Control/Gameplay Rating: 5/10


5. REPLAYABILITY

You can play through the game multiple times with different characters of different races and different specialties, and the Nature/Technology tree choices will make sure that your characters are different each time you play. Online play is also a viable option, assuming you know anyone else willing to pay money for this game, and assuming you’re willing to deal with the laggy online play (unless maybe you’re all on a T-3 or FiOS when you play). Beyond that, though, Silverfall is generally going to be the same experience over and over again, and as the online play isn’t very stable, that’s not even a reason to come back to it (unlike Silverfall’s contemporaries, which tend to live on long after their release for that very reason). After one run through, you will most likely have had your fill.

Replayability Rating: 5/10


6. BALANCE

Death comes somewhat frequently, which is rather disagreeable for the sort of game Silverfall is; in theory, dungeon hacks allow you to hack things apart, but in practice, running up on mobs and murdering them tends to not work so well if one values life. Now, logic says that one is expected to employ strategy to survive battles, which would be fine except that THIS IS NOT THAT KIND OF GAME. Strategy against boss monsters, this I can grasp; but having to kite each and every battle is repetitive and annoying.

Of course, you could just dump all of your points into Elemental Shot and spam that with the occasional spell thrown in and breeze along, but that’s not terribly balanced, either. Nor is watching an NPC you just recruited die five seconds into his very first battle, come to think of it. All told, you can learn to work with Silverfall’s here-and-there-and-everywhere game balance, but it’s convoluted and not terribly well conceived, so there seems little reason to do so.

Balance Rating: 4/10


7. ORIGINALITY

The core gameplay of Silverfall follows in the well-worn treads of about eighty billion other, better games, inclusive of but not limited to Diablo 2, Dungeon Siege, Titan’s Quest, Divine Divinity, Sacred, and Fate. You will find very little in Silverfall that is not in those games, only done better. The concept of the title is also unoriginal, and seems to be lifted a bit from Arcanum, another promising but woefully uninspiring PC game (though Arcanum played more like Fallout). Points are given for the idea of making such a game cel-shaded, which is rather neat, but sadly, the underlying game seems undeserving of such a treatment.

Originality Rating: 2/10


8. ADDICTIVENESS

If you’re down with the gameplay concept of wandering around the landscape, murdering everything you see, collecting new and exciting gear, and doing little else, you’ll have some fun with Silverfall. Unfortunately, you’ll most likely spend your time remembering how much better other games of this type are than the one you’re presently playing. Sliverfall is a pretty but bland game experience that will keep you addicted only if you’re a fan of building the biggest, baddest character you can at the expense of all else. If you’re looking for something with a little more meat and not so much trimmings, Silverfall won’t satisfy for long.

Addictiveness Rating: 5/10


9. APPEAL FACTOR

If

1.) you’ve played a dungeon hack in the past fifteen years, and you liked it a lot,
2.) you have the sufficiently badass system required to play this game, and
3.) you like medieval or steampunk concepts

Silverfall is going to appeal to you on principle. This is not to say you’re going to LIKE Silverfall, nor is it to say that you should BUY Silverfall. But it IS to say that Silverfall is something you would find appealing, and as a good many gamers fall into at least two of the above three categories, I can honestly say that this would appeal to a good many of you.

Appeal Rating: 7/10


10. MISCELLANEOUS

On two occasions the game crashed to the desktop (once in battle, once while equipping my character) with no explanation, but I imagine bug fixes are imminent. Just so you’re aware.

All told, there are a substantially large amount of Diablo-esque titles available to the PC gamer who finds the genre entertaining, and most of those games are better than Silverfall. It’s not that Silverfall is BAD, per say, so much as it seems to be based purely around its pretty graphics and physics engine instead of an interesting gameplay experience. One could easily name ten of these sorts of games that are better than Silverfall; Titan’s Quest, Dungeon Siege 2, Divine Divinity, Alien Shooter 2, Fate, and of course Diablo 2 come to mind. Unless you’ve torn through all of these games and are looking for something else to occupy your time, you’d be better served hunting down any of the games above instead of Silverfall; aside from being a better experience, they’re cheaper as well.

Miscellaneous Rating: 3/10

The Scores:
Story: 3/10
Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 5/10
Control/Gameplay: 5/10
Replayability: 5/10
Balance: 4/10
Originality: 2/10
Addictiveness: 5/10
Appeal: 7/10
Miscellaneous: 3/10

Overall Score: 4.7/10
Final Score: 4.5 (POOR).

Short Attention Span Summary
Silverfall ends up being a game that’s system intensive, physically attractive, and utterly uninteresting. A bland story combined with mediocre also-ran gameplay and a lack of any reason to play it at all, let alone more than once, tear down what could have been an acceptable entry into the genre otherwise. If mindless killing and character upgrading are all you care about, Silverfall might be your thing, but for everyone else, it falls far short of expectations.