The fantasy RPG genre is one of my favourites and so I was very keen to get my hands on my reviewers copy of Morning's Wrath. After downloading the hefty 120Mb installer and setting myself up, I embarked on the first steps of an adventure that would turn out to be a bittersweet experience. Many hundreds of foes, numerous puzzles, and too many restored saved games to mention later, I have completed the game. I do have that contented and satisfying feeling that comes with clearing a game of this type (or clicking the last piece of an enormous jigsaw puzzle into place). However, there is also a lingering feeling that the game was not all that it could or should have been given the obvious creative talent of the folks that developed the game at EDI.
Now, I don't want to give too much of the plot away, but the in-game story revolves around the crown princess of the Leowyn people. Princess Morning must come to terms with her destiny through an agonising turn of events. These will see her defend her subjects from the cruel hand of Rhajad Rhul, the general of the arch-enemy Ashidian army.
Although Morning's Wrath may at first seem similar to a dungeon hack in the likes of Diablo, with its isometric top-down camera angle, there are a few things that set it apart in the gameplay catagory that are significant. Firstly, the game contains no randomly generated areas. Enemies when slain do not drop treasure or items. Instead, there are various items that Morning can equip scattered around the environs. Morning can pick up and use magical amulets, rings, headwear and bracelets only. Her armour and weaponry will remain the same through the entire game. The game progression relies very heavily on puzzle solving; generally using items aquired in one area of the game brought to another for a specific purpose. There are also logic and word puzzles as well as one to test your musical prowess (or tone deafness, in my case.)
Combat is handled by using your sword in melee or by unleashing pre-learned magic spells upon your foes. One of the most frustrating things in Morning's Wrath is trying to click on a moving enemy, often when moving yourself to engage in melee combat. There is zero margin for error, and that, coupled with some bizzare path-finding routines, all too often see Morning and the enemies doing a frenzied dance of death around each other for some time before a blow is landed. The poor path-finding also becomes an issue when Morning has to negotiate obstacles such as furniture. She will duck in and out of all sorts of nooks and crannies rather than take a straight line to her target.
The magic system is quite novel. The player is awarded 'runes' at key points in the game. These runes are either an element, (such as fire, static, caustic or ion) or a form (like radiation, wave, engulf or arrow). The player creates spells by mixing runes together as desired, and then commiting the spell to memory. Here's a picture of me casting a devastating 'flare engulf magnet'.
Although the combinations are numerous, there does not seem to be any advantage to using one element over any other in terms of monster resistances that I can tell. The later 'form' runes are more devastating than the earlier awarded ones. Only one element in any spell is permitted but as many forms as desired can be used to create some cool looking effects. Magic is your friend; a very powerful tool, especially in the early stages of the game when Morning is still weak. Alas, some of the most feared enemies that our heroine will face are the magic wielding Ancient Warlocks and Ashidian War-Mages.
Which leads me to another gripe. It's much too easy to be killed by an enemy that is way out of depth for Morning at almost all but the final stages of her development. Just one stray magical bolt from a warlock can take most or all of Morning's life points in one hit. At the worst of it in the early game I was saving and restoring from saves so often that it was not fun.
Once enemies are killed they will respawn after a certain amount of time. This is not a bad feature since it allows Morning to gain experience on the weaker enemies until she is ready to take on the more fearsome foes. One strategy that I employed was to scout ahead for the spawning points of strong enemies and after being killed (or on the odd occasion running away) would just avoid that location entirely until Morning was strong enough to take the fight to them. Towards the end game though, the Princess becomes a bit of a tank, and by the late game there's not much that can hurt her, with the exception of the final confrontation. Again I won't spoil it for you, but you will want to make liberal use of the unlimited save feature both just before and maybe even during the fracas.
Graphically, Morning's Wrath is not going to sweep an indie games award ceremony for best visuals in 2006. The world is pleasingly rendered in smooth 2-D and sprites are the name of the game. There are some real time lighting effects which do make the experience more realistic, especially the magic fights. When Morning steps behind a wall, transparency kicks in to allow you to pick up hidden items since the camera can not be rotated. This works well most of the time, but I found that in some instances, such as when navigating a tight maze, movement (specifically, trying to find a tile to click on) was a little confusing.
Without a doubt the soundtrack is a high point for this game. The score is classical in style, moody, beautifully presented and adds a great deal to the atmoshere of the dank underworld and in-castle battles. The tracks are numerous and samples of the in-game music are available to listen to on the games website. Sound effects do their job and include some nice ambient noises. Morning's Wrath is not a bad game, but these days RPGs have to offer more than what it does to stand out from the crowd. I managed to solve all but a couple of the puzzles, and by the way, it is not mandatory to solve all of them to finish the game. The difficulty level of the puzzles was not overbearingly tricky, but I did have to think to solve a few of them and that did increase the satisfaction on completion of the game. Due to the non-randomised content, (about 12+ hours of gameplay) and puzzles only being a challenge the first run through, I'm afraid that there is not a great deal of replay value here. I would be lying if I said that I didn't enjoy playing through Morning's Wrath, and if you're looking for a RPG/puzzler, then you could do a lot worse for $19.95. Even better, fork out an extra $10 and get the game on CD with some very professionally laser printed artwork on the DVD case and disk (some of the best I've seen as an indie offering) as well as a handy quick reference sheet. This is only the first title from EDI games and I'm convinced the best is yet to come. Here at Bytten, we can't wait to see what they'll come up with next.
Keywords: morning's wrath review, edi games reviews, edi games games, morning's wrath scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.