Stories. The Path of Destinies
Tea: Cinnamon Thyme Tea
For me, the games offered by PS+ are often something to expand my horizon. They more often than not feature games I have never heard of, which is a good thing most of the time. I never would have checked out Letter Quest, but now I am really into it. I wish I never had delved into Lords of the Fallen, but now I have scars to show why this assumption was completely justified. Therefore, whenever a game comes along that looks neither amazing nor terrible, I always hope I just stumbled upon a rough diamond. The question is whether Stories: The Path of Destinies is a that sort of diamond or just a cheap glass imitation, ready to crack under the first signs of pressure.
Stories (a title which abbreviated sounds like I am making general narrative claims) takes a somewhat unique approach to storytelling if you have never seen Groundhog’s Day, if you have, then it is pretty much the same affair. You play the fox Reynardo, a Han-Solo-type rogue who always seems to put himself first. He gets hold of a magic book and is caught up in a rebellion between the creatively named rebels and the empire, because it is always an empire, people never rebel against any form of voted government. From now on the story branches after each level and you will have to make one of two (sometimes three) pre-made choices that in some way reflect the next step, even though they can sometimes appear very contrived and almost faulty. Playing through the story like this, after 5 levels you will be treated to an ending. You may discover one of four hidden truths you need to unlock to see the one true ending to break the cycle. However, you might just as well end up with a “joke” ending and be sent right back to the start. Either way, you will be starting over for a good portion of the game, looking for critical paths to new events and so forth. The story is told like a book, meaning there is one narrator that does all the character voices as well as the descriptive passages, (e.g. “Oh look, a raven” Reynardo said). While the story does throw some twists your way, they are not really that surprising and you can probably guess most of them, but you will still be stuck with having to manually unlock them through repeated playthroughs. Furthermore, Since the options after each mission seem to be tied to a chapter based selection, you cannot mix choices from different chapters, which really doesn’t make a lot of sense and severely restricts the freedom and agency of the player.
– While this story-book artwork is nice, they re-use images in different contexts which just makes it feel cheap. –
Combat is one of the greatest weaknesses of this game. When starting out, fighting is restricted to a single button. No jumping, no rolling, no nothing. Only slashing your sword and parrying in a Metal Gear Rising-fashion which does not account for the possibility of multiple attackers at once. Everything else must be unlocked via the standard level up mechanic. Let me just say that there are ways to acknowledge levelling systems that are fine, as well as not acknowledging them at all. However, a real pet peeve of mine is this nudge-nudge-wink-wink smug self-aware kind of way. Here, Reynaldo simply forgot everything and has to remember it via level ups… And the painfully forced “funny” comments about it are just the tip of the iceberg. I simply don’t buy that somebody forgot he had a grappling hook attached to his arm, I simply do not buy, somebody forgot he could dash out of the way, could slow down time, or the most embarrassing of the all: He forgot that he actually has more health. Level-up-gripes aside, the combat itself is a mindless button mash affair. There are only 5 enemy types in the game, with one of them being standard guys with a shield. No bosses, no special versions even. Combat is always the same and it gets dull really fast. Enemies take an embarrassingly amount of sabre swings with them having no way to fight back since your attacks stagger them for ages. Your only real threat are layered attacks which the combat does not account for. At this point I really have to emphasise the mistake of having basic combat capabilities locked behind upgrades: Imagine having to buy the ability to roll in Dark Souls, or to jump in Devil May Cry. A way to deal with enemies that is not restricted to wailing on them is the most basic principle of any fun combat game. When you have seen one combat encounter you have seen them all. Every level is basically the same with just a different backdrop. The enemies never change or adapt their tactics. Combat is a breeze as long as the attacks do not layer over one another and thus it gets dull really really fast.
– Did I mention that you can buy the ability to bypass the shield immediately after the shield guys are introduced? Great game design. –
Concerning the gimmick of the game, meaning this story book approach. It is nice as far as concepts go, but it is severely underdeveloped and badly executed. For one, the ability to skip dialogue should really be implemented, especially since you will visit certain locations again and again, this tedious repetition grinds my ability to put up with it to a very light powder, moments later blowing it into the endless empty level. This also showcases the problem of the writing, since it is not all that great. Making a comedic self-aware game is a tightrope walk to begin with, but here the humour relies mostly on either “this is almost like a video game”-jokes or pop culture references without any context. The writing itself is bland and never really develops a voice of its own. This is most visible in the rapid jumps between tones and my inability to judge for what age group this game is made. Sometimes the jokes and twists are elementary school level, but then “funny” quips about chopping off heads and feasting on pain and suffering of the innocent are thrown in. The entire writing is so schizophrenic is seems to have been done by at least three people. You will have to sit through the same passages over and over and some do not even lead you further ahead. After a choice I made, I died in the story, but was then transported back to the start of that specific level with the choice of dying again by the end or choosing a path I had already done before. Grinding. My. Nerves. Game!
– The game also sometimes pushes a weird essentialism. Ravens are just evil and bring destruction, it is their nature. What a message to send. –
And then there are glitches, loads of them, not mentioning the fact that the game is not even fully visible on my screen with option to adjust it, thus I was stuck never seeing this stamina bar the game keeps mentioning. More than once I was stuck in the level geometry without a way out. I fell through stairs since they disappeared under my feet. Entire areas fade in and out of existence as you progress. A level near the end has dust constantly blowing across the screen and the engine has severe problems with this. Now add smashing crates to the mix and you have enough time to boil another kettle of tea in the time Reynardo can move again. But it is not just layered particle effects, basic combat can slow the game down to a crawl. Your dash emits particles as well and they also mess up the already unstable framerate even further. It is a technical mess from start to finish. It truly speaks volumes when I am in constant fear of falling through the world before this happened the first time. I know when I need to be careful and the way Reynardo stopped dead in his tracks when going over some slight inclines in the level architecture made all my alarm bells explode.
The levels themselves actually look quite nice. They are far from being creative, but visually they are not terrible, aside from the occasional piece of rock glitching into your field of view. However, they are so empty and linear. Everything feels the same: Walk a bit, fight some guys, find an elevator that takes you from one disconnected portion to another and then fight some more. Rinse and repeat until the game is over and you can do it again from the start. The soundtrack is as generic as possible and really not worth talking about.
– Props to some of the level designs. Sometimes you can even see locations in the distance you will soon visit. –
As an idea, Stories: The Path of Destinies might seem enticing, but it is flawed in so many different ways. The concept is crippled due to the writing and lack of actual choice, coupled with forced retreads through the same environments over and over again. The combat is far too simplistic to keep my interest throughout the millions of copy-pasted encounters. On a technical level, the game fails equally hard. The entire affair is not graphically demanding and yet glitches, disappearing objects, and framerate drops are the norm. The only way to enjoy Stories is if you have an insatiable desire to navigate a burning ship in a cliff of sharp rocks while the ship may occasionally disappear and the flames slow down your journey due to their particle effects.
Image sources in order of appearance:
- https://s3-us-west-1.amazonaws.com/shacknews/assets/editorial/2016/04/12991036_10154110564559932_3078591881509528065_n.jpg (Last date of access: 18.02.2017)
- http://assets.rpgsite.net/images/images/000/045/343/original/stories-combat.jpg (Last date of access: 18.02.2017)
- https://www.destructoid.com//ul/357597-stories.jpg (Last date of access: 18.02.2017)
- http://www.spiele-pc-herunterladen.de/wp-content/uploads/photo-gallery/Stories%20The%20Path%20of%20Destinies%20image%204.jpg (Last date of access: 18.02.2017)