On paper, Lords of Xulima sounds like an rpg that would be right up my alley. It’s designed around some classics to evoke some of the same feeling including Baldur’s Gate, Heroes of Might and Magic, and Wizardry, all with a more modern look and feel. For the most part it succeeds. It’s a bit on the difficult side, it has an interesting story, and you have a great amount of strategy elements to deploy in what at first looks like a simple combat set-up. There are a few places where the game doesn’t work for me, but there’s a lot of care and love for the older and harder rpgs that went into this that’s not hard to notice. Let’s take a look.
Focusing on Gaulen the Explorer, we find out fairly quickly that his world is in shambles. His home continent of Rodinia is at war and he’s been charged with reclaiming the original home of the nine gods who created his world, Xulima. No man from Gaulen’s land has ever set foot on Xulima, but there are men and creatures that live there and a new power is draining the gods of their power after they had left and they need Gaulen to reclaim it for them. He gathers up a party to go with him as they commanded and sets off across the sea to the lost continent of Xulima in the hopes of retaking it and stopping the war in Rodinia with the help of the Great Protectors and put a stop to the Guardian of Souls from draining the nine gods. It is a pretty basic but also fairly epic story that develops from there as you play through talking with different NPCs and reading about some of the history and the lore within the game.
While this game is definitely a throwback to the isometric hand drawn and cg maps of old, this game uses a variety of those and more modern modelling techniques to bring the game to life. It can look a bit haphazard at times where some of the critters are coming at you in combat looking like a rendered creature or sometimes a painted and animated one while you’re sporting more traditionally crafted characters representing you and your team in little boxes. It works though and gets its point across. Most of the time it’s just your lead character wandering the wilderness or towns and interacting with NPCs and objects throughout. Most of the areas are really well done and look great on screen, some are like the combat screen and leave you a little less than impressed. It’s an impressive amount of work that went into bringing the game world to life. Overall the visuals do more than what they need to do to drive the story along.
You’re not going to be getting a fully voiced game here, so let’s get that out of the way. While there are some voiceovers, most of that is during some lengthy narration sessions that set-up different situations. Some of the NPCs have one-off lines here and there, but most of the time everything is conveyed through text. The voice-acting that is there isn’t too bad, The music itself is pretty good, and the occasional grunts and groans from the characters and a few notes of interaction between you and the NPCs is there and serves to serve as an emphasis on combat or an intro to a long wall of text to advance the story. The combat sound effects do their job, but really the only stand out for me was the music which does its job well. This game is more about telling the story through visual dialogue and the gameplay anyway.
The game gives you some options when it comes to controls. You can either opt to use the mouse and its buttons, or you can throw in with some keyboard controls as well. Everything you want to do in game can be done with the mouse and the interface, but if you want to make it go a bit faster you can use the keyboard shortcuts to open up options for you faster than hunting with the mouse to do it. Probably one of the keys you’ll want to remember because I couldn’t find a corresponding option in the interface is the ALT and SHIFT keys which either toggle running and walking or put you at a run or walk depending on what you’re set at. Walking will take you a really long time to get through maps as they are rather large and you walk really slowly. If you’re using the mouse, the left button moves your character wherever your mouse is as well as triggering character interactions with whatever is highlighted. The right button gives you an option to get more information about different things on screen. If you hover your mouse over something in the environment and it lights up or gives you an interaction icon, you can interact with it.
One of the things you have to remember about gameplay with this game, is that the game itself is hard. They drive this home even in your difficulty selection, as once you’ve started, you can’t make it harder, you can only make it easier. When you select Hardcore, you have an option to go with Ironman which means you can only save in town which is going to make this already difficult and punishing game even harder for you. So there is that to consider even before you ever get to assembling your party.
The game focuses on its lead character in Gaulen the Explorer, meaning he’s your avatar in the game world, he’s set every time and you can’t change him. What you can do is surround him with either the default party make-up which grants you a named party to go with Gaulen made up of a soldier, mage, thief, bard, and cleric, or you can take the option to create the other five people that will run with Gaulen so you can pick who and what he has with him as you play through the game. Your creation options are pretty basic, but you do get to pick between genders, class, their portrait that you’ll have to look at in combat throughout the game, their name, what god they worship, and then their starting weapon. You don’t get to do much with the party beyond that as Gaulen basically represents your party in all things throughout the game, but it’s still a nice touch to be able to flesh out the party with your own options.
One of the bigger systems in this game is dealing with resources, more specifically food as that figures in to your travel ability and how well you can recover after a battle. If you don’t have food you can’t rest at all. This means that if you’re out and in the middle of nowhere and a few party members have dropped for whatever reason, you won’t be getting them back on their feet any time soon. Food is used up by moving around, resting and performing actions. The only way to replenish it is in towns, through finding containers with food inside, or by picking it up if you find it out in the wilderness. Terrains can also figure in to how fast you burn through your food. If you’re in rougher terrain you’ll burn through it faster than even ground. With a good supply of food though you can rest for a full 24 hours and revive dead party members. 8 hours can heal non-fatal wounds without having to dip too far into it. I can’t stress how important food is. You’ll have to be very careful how you use it and how fast you go through it especially in the early parts of the game when you are lacking in buying power in the towns due to lack of funds.
Outside of towns you’re basically in what’s considered a hostile area. I hope you like random battles, because you will get attacked randomly and that will include groups of enemies that can and will wipe the floor with your party if you don’t pay attention to their levels versus yours. The good news is there’s a fixed number of enemies to each area, so if you clear them all out you won’t get attacked anymore in that area. You also get a bonus for doing that. You can try to avoid enemies by getting out of combat but I had little success with that. Aside from the random enemies, there are visible ones on the map. They’re usually in groups, so even if you see one single critter on the map, he or she is probably not alone. Even better, the ones you can see aren’t going to move after you as they’re fixed. They also have an area that they’ll attack you if you get to close to. You can find out what that is by highlighting them with your mouse. Right-clicking on a visible enemy will also tell you how many of them are in the group.
This leads us to combat which is turn based. Your right side of the screen will tell you the initiative order. Status conditions will knock characters and enemies further down the line in order of attack. When your character’s turn comes up your options for that character will show up on screen. This is where some of that strategy element comes in. You can stun and paralyze enemies so that they don’t get turns which is a nice bonus, but you have a row set-up and unlike most RPGs that use them your party members position on the field actually matters. Depending on where you’re at on the line determines which critter you can hit. If you’re melee it’s only adjacent creatures that you can get to. Ranged and casters have options to hit pretty much anywhere in the combat area. Also, positioning weaker party members in the back means that your heavies take the brunt of the beating up front. This way you can stack your party to keep dishing it out without losing anyone, hopefully. You also have the option to try and flee.
What RPG would be complete though without traps and locks? They handle both in this game with mini-games. Locks require lockpicks and you can try to brute force them but you can hurt party members doing it that way. There’s an automatic option that just uses your skill with it or you can try on your own. You’re basically finding a path with the trap mini-game from one point to another to finish it off and obstacles can break your lockpicks as you do it. Traps use a different mini-game involving gears. You have to hit the gears when they turn green to continue through and beat it. If you hit a red one you set off the trap and face the music. Yes I’ve lost a whole party to a trap, so be prepared. You can use the automatic option with traps as well and its tied to your skill, so tread carefully. Skills are trained through levelling up or through training and gathering herbs.
With some open elements as far as traversing the world, an array of character classes, and the ability to make your own characters to wander around with the lead, there’s some replayability here. Other than that though, this is pretty much going to be the same experience every time you fire up the game. Sure you can fire up the difficulty, to which I say good luck because wow it’s insanely hard on the most difficult setting. There is a great sense of nostalgia if you’re fond of older RPGs though which really is what kept me coming back to this one. If you like older isometric style RPGs with a really high difficulty and not many options but a really deep lore and story to go with it, this will keep you coming back after you’ve beaten it.
Balance is where the game really falls apart for me. I appreciate a difficult game and even enjoy them but at the start of this game the difficulty is so out of balance it’s beyond difficult and oozes into frustration. The battles can be way too difficult even in the opening area and I found my party getting wiped from random battles instead of the ones I had to avoid because they were so over-powered I’d wipe. Sure I can take losing a party member or two and then investing some time in raising them with food, but when you get into a fight where everyone ends up dead before you can even think about retreating, it ceases to be a challenge and instead ends up in an exercise of frustration and fury. If you can get beyond that first crazy amount of frustration and over-powered enemies guiding you through that first area, it does even out a bit as you play, but a lot of people aren’t going to like that going in, so you’ve been warned. The length for what you pay for this is fantastic. You’re looking at a good jrpg length of play time here and if you like the systems you’ll be in heaven playing through it.
One of the harder things to discuss on a game that has its own lore and mythology and story while still evoking and feeling very much like a throwback to earlier titles, is originality. On the one hand its a brand new world to explore with never before seen npc’s, newly designed critters to kill, and a new way to go about saving the world. Then you look at some of the base mechanics, the way the game looks and plays, and even the initial impressions the combat system give and you realize that while it may be an original game, this one was built to honor the giants of the old-school rpgs that came before it. The initial impression that this is simply a retread would be off. Numanation Games did some really interesting things here not just with combat which makes it a strategy rpg as well as an old school isometric one and they incorporated a means of managing resources while you’re out gallivanting around in the wilderness that is definitely a more modern touch but works really well with everything else in the game. So while this oozes that nostalgia feel for older rpgs, there’s a lot of new things lurking in here to appeal to the more modern audiences without alienating someone looking for that old school feel.
The only major knock I have against this game is the random difficulty spikes that can pop up out of nowhere that can really drop a wall of ragequit pretty quickly. When everything is firing off in a more progressive manner and you can deal with the difficulty without getting your entire party killed, the game is addictive and challenging and is actually a lot of fun to get lost for hours in. The third time in under an hour when a random battle that’s listed as not being insanely difficult leads to you getting wiped before the end of your second round of combat you’ll be re-evaluating how much you really like this game. If you love old school RPG and like Dark Souls, this would definitely be a game you’d get into real fast. I like my challenges a bit more even however so while I really like this for the most part and did get engrossed, there were days the random number generated gods just yanked all that fun away.
Priced well within the same range as the revamps of Baldur’s Gate, Lords of Xulima offers up something new with a meaty length to extend the mighty dollar a long ways along with a challenge for those that like their rpgs to bite back on occasion. There are a number of rpgs out there, but only a handful are bringing the isometric view back which will get a number of people in to play. While you do have a lot of control over the party make-up and characters, not having control over
I have a pretty beefy laptop, or at least it was when I bought it. It’s showing some signs of old age and is kind of in the mid-range of what you can get specs-wise, but I’ve had few problems running pretty much anything I throw at her even now. The game itself isn’t specced to kill a PC, but I noticed it felt like it was chugging when I ran it sometimes or that my laptop was playing catch-up unnecessarily. That was really the only thing that kind of bugged me about the game build itself. It was stable and never crashed on me, but I would get what seemed like slowdowns when nothing was really going onscreen. Overall though everything played really well other than feeling ganged up on occasion.
There are some extras with the Deluxe Edition, although they’re all digital, they’re still worth looking at. Included is an in-depth game guide complete with tips, a walkthrough, and a breakdown on character classes, weapons and skills. At 202 pages, it’s pretty in depth, but it only covers the main plot points so it’s not a completionist kind of guide but it will help you get through the main plot of the game. Also included is the game’s soundtrack, a lore and bestiary guide and some wallpaper for your computer. I do like the soundtrack, but the lore and bestiary guide were a very nice inclusion and the bestiary does include stats for the monsters you come across in the game. With the Deluxe Edition you also get The Talisman of Golot DLC which gives you a talisman you can charge to grant you wishes that helps you throughout the game. Named after the god who sent you on the quest in the first place, you receive it as soon as the game start and it’s useful. You get get it separately if you don’t want to go for the Deluxe Edition.
Short Attention Span Summary
Lords of Xulima is a really tough but still well thought out and fun homage to the classic isometric RPG. With some interesting mixes from the various old school rpgs and a decent take on a different method of exploring involving using actual resources, Numantian Games has created something with the look, feel and heart of an older rpg with many of the sensibilities of a modern one. While lead character customization is out as well as what seems like a really lopsided difficulty and rng system, this is a game that both players new to the older rpgs and players who love older rpgs can get into provided you’re willing to treat the game as out to get you. Because it is, and it’s goal is to give you a swift kick in the nostalgia while it does it.