Okay, let me be completely honest here. Extinction crossed my eyes a while ago, and I put my feelers out, showing interest in reviewing the game. I know I had some expectations because I thought “Oh, that seems right up my alley. Nice.” But, in a fantastic display of what happens with a lack of marketing, the game slowly faded from my old cobweb collector and my glassy eyes settled on other digital horizons.
Before we head into the next section, I need to point out, this is one of those games that makes me reconsider using a scoring system. I am not sure any value I end up giving it will be a proper reflection of the game.
After playing my review copy of the game for an hour, I sat back with a sour expression on my face. “What the hell is this?” I wondered. Is this what I was excited about? I was mostly confused because whatever the expectations I had built up about the game, and I couldn’t remember them, there was a nagging feeling deep inside telling me something wasn’t right.
Now let’s chime the soothing music and go over the (to me, exciting) elevator pitch for this game. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Humanity squabbles among itself, but now the horrible, mysterious giants – the Ravenii of legend – that no one knows much about have shown up to murder the heck out of the world. Tromping down buildings, people, and what not as they go on their strange mission to destroy humanity for… well… reasons.
You play Avil, the last of the Sentinels. A grumbly character so grizzled I am sure he must have levels in ranger. He’s skilled, devoted, and has tremendous trust issues. But as the game unfolds, he learns to trust again, with… varying results. As Avil, you battle the Ravenii forces in different sizes. The smaller Jackals being more numerous but more your size. The more massive giants requiring a bit more skill to lay low. You’ll be fighting in various battlefields, trying to weaken giants and gain enough rune power to kill the massive, regenerating beast. They heal really quickly, so lop that noggin off.
I don’t mind a grind. I play and love Diablo and Far Cry style games. I love getting sweet random loot upgrades, earning skill points to customize a character to my play style, and I don’t even mind playing the same missions over and over again in the glorious pursuit of “Gittin’ Gud.” However, no matter what I was expecting with this game, I wasn’t expecting something quite like this.
The mechanics are relatively straightforward, blissfully so in fact. You have an area with various structures and citizens needing rescuing. You have a notifier indicating the current state of the territory. If it hits 0% that is bad. This number lowers based on the damage the area has taken and the number of civilian casualties. Ah. Civilian causalities. Please, walk with me a moment while we discuss what I find one of the most irritating points of this game.
So, where are the civilians? They are not in their homes, nor are they fleeing the city. No. The best and brightest of this kingdom lurk around the various extraction crystals found placed on the map by Avil’s technically inclined assistant. Now let us ignore for the narrative that people, including Avil, have no idea what these crystals are for. All we know is your magical partner has placed them in areas because she is just that good at predicting Ravenii attacks. And, without prompting these crystals seem to draw citizens. Usually a few around each, but the number varies.
So you’ll find your innocent dupes around these crystals, just standing. Occasionally waving. Sometimes cowering and screaming. The plan is simple, Avil runs up, holds the ‘activate crystal’ button long enough, and poof – all the folks around the crystal are saved. Hooray! They are moved off the board, Avil gains some ‘rune energy’ for the act of saving them, and they are no longer a liability to the complete destruction of the city.
But they find these crystals so attractive that, that outside of waving and cowering they won’t budge. Not an inch. If a jackal has descended and is in the act of slaughtering a citizen around the crystal, their crystal buddies can be found standing there, likely the blood spray of their friends and neighbours splashing on their faces, as the Jackals rip them apart not inches away. I don’t mean to sound like a ‘Rune Powered Sentinel Elitist,’ but it didn’t take long for me to seriously consider if I’d be doing the kingdom favour if I just… let the jackals have their lunch. Zero survival skills. Run, flee, cower at another crystal. Or maybe your partner could have just told the citizens to get the hell out of dodge before the Ravenii attacked when she was laying down the escape stones. The citizens sure put a considerable amount of faith in them, so… not sure why they wouldn’t just trust her word that may be an evacuation would be better.
If you haven’t noticed. The entire crystal-rescue-the-civilian mechanic bothered me greatly. Look, I don’t need a pile of realism when dealing video-games. Particularly ones where I am some bad ass chosen one (who just kind of accepted his life of a slave for so long) killing giants. But I need to care about the people I am saving. I’ve met worms struggling on the sidewalk I had greater empathy for than the civilians in this game.
Rune energy is important. Saving civilians is one of the best ways to get that before engaging a giant Ravenii head on. If you don’t have enough energy, you can’t actually kill the giants. So apparently the game needed ways for you to generate it. Breaking armour off the giants, killing jackals, and saving civilians are excellent ways of doing it. But a small way that would have been a simple aesthetic change would be to simply have the crystals be there to magically reinforce the town. Instead of dumb villagers standing out there putting up zero defences waiting for Avil to come along and wave his hands at the crystal, why not have some structures be invincible while the gem is intact.
Instead of the jackals killing people, they just attack the crystals directly. Crystals go inert after the civilians that were around them are killed anyway, so there is an inherent system of hit points already there. In my version of the game, the crystals get destroyed, the buildings are vulnerable. Now panic hits. People flee their buildings in mass, it is too late for them, they are merely dramatic window dressing for your failure. Flying jackals take off with victims, land-based ones start herding them towards the giant Ravenii, who in turn eat them! Graphicly! And of course they get a perk for this, maybe broken armour regenerates for… reasons. Anyway, that is how I would have rolled with it, I would have felt more responsible for the people and cared more. And honestly, it would have felt a bit more immersive. And it would have turned this from a problematic game to a great game, easily.
Regardless of the problems with the citizen saving, let us talk about the real star mechanic. The giant slaying.
Yes. I just ranted for several paragraphs about my genuinely bizarre hang-ups with one of the critical elements of the game. But the main attraction of the game, the fighting the giant building stomping Ravenii, is solid. Actually, it’s pretty darn good. Forget the jackals, I don’t care about them. I am talking the big guys. As the game stomps forward, you will find the giants become tougher to fell, as one would hope.
Sometimes the armour is nothing more than some rickety wood. Sometimes it is heavy gold plates with several locks that need to be broken open. Maybe magical runes are infused on them, creating a thorny barrier. When you dive into it, running around while this massive creature trashes buildings and tries to stomp you good, combined with the slow-motion attacks when you are trying to aim your rune weapon, it can make for some great moments. Toss in your whip and natural leaping and crawling abilities, taking down the giants is challenging, satisfying and leaves you wanting to do it more.
As mentioned, to kill a Ravenii giant, you need to have a full ‘Rune charge’ and sometimes when all the civilians are gone, and there are few jackals around to murder, you are stuck there sadistically hacking limbs off a giant, keeping him incapacitated while you build up energy. It doesn’t happen often, but it can be a bit of an adrenaline killer. Add in the fact that sometimes the camera angle does bizarre things that can make it hard to reorient yourself. Oh, and – of course – after you land the back of the neck kill strike on the giants, your rune power is depleted, and you need to go charge up again.
Sound the Alarms
Those familiar with my reviews know that I put heavy stock in good audio and visuals. They don’t have to be hyper-realistic – I mean I have put way to much time into Minecraft to be a graphics snob. But the package needs to be pleasing or at least thematic. And I’ll admit, despite anything else I may say about the game, it looks good, and it sounds good. The music is well paced and unobtrusive – but still thematic. The in-game sounds are excellent, and the voice acting is not just passable – but damn good.
The graphics opted for a more cartoony look, evoking a bit of the Fortnite feel, to use a topical point of reference. And they lean into it hard. While they jackals and larger Ravenii aren’t cutie pies by my standards (I mean.. popular conceptions of beauty change…. and this old gaffer is no prize, so who am I to point fingers) but they aren’t any more terror-inspiring than say, one of the critters from Gremlins. But they did an excellent job graphically. Even reusing the same set pieces and terrain didn’t get exhaustively samey as seeing the walls and stuff explode under giant feet never really got old.
Regeneration in progress
Time to tip the other side of the scale, about some things I think that people who are concerned where their farthings are going. Or whatever people use for currency now… chickens? Are we trading livestock again yet? Anyway, contemporary currency trends aside, I want to talk about replay value and the game modes. The first thing that struck me when I loaded it up, and it sent shivers down my spine, was a menu option for ‘Downloadable Content’. Seeing this sort of thing, particularly on a new IP, makes me nervous.
First, just putting it there is a promise to add content. Maybe extra chapters? More random assets to build the random levels with? Different modes? New Characters? Who knows!? I never think promising DLC is a smart move until you decide if you are going to continue supporting the product. If sales are less than expected, will they want to keep adding stuff? Also, when you’re talking about DLC so early, there’s sometimes the air of suspicion that they have already hacked parts out of the game and are holding them back.
There are also leaderboard-enabled game modes. The Extinction mode is likely my favourite of the few: Kill as many bad guys as you can before they kill you. Simple. Fun. Satisfying. Considering how quickly the chapters burn by, even if you are trying to get all the sub missions, it’s good they have at least put thought into extending the life of the game past the campaign -without- the need of DLC. So consider me a fan of the game modes as well. Less of the dangling spectre of the Downloadable Content beast trying to tear down the walls to our coin purses.
On the Shoulders of … Ravenii?
So at the very start, I talked about grind and levelling and stuff. It’s in here, and I am just not sure how I feel about it. You have lots of gizmos, but the game isn’t really focused on upgrading gear. It’s focused on upgrading skills. And that’s fine, I don’t need each Jackal and giant Ravenii becoming some sort of organic treasure pinata. As you accomplish things, in victory or defeat, you gain skill points. Skills points are spent on increasingly expensive abilities that impact everything from damage, ability to unleash combos, to health and jumping.
The issue is you can replay any chapter you want, as many times as you want, and by doing so earn a relatively decent clip of skill points. That includes the rather easy starter intro missions, where you are only punished for repeating them by the unskippable tutorial. Each of the starter chapters can be done in between five to ten minutes. So you can earn a bucket load of skill points from the starter quest with even just an hour of grinding. Or tackle a mission you really liked, over and over again, also earning sweet skill points for it. Still, I’m not sure this is a bad thing, but it takes the challenge of progressing down a peg. Now clearly this is optional. No one is going to force you at sentinel sword point to do it, but I question the design choice.
I also want to talk about a particular skill. The one that unlocks combos. I struggled to kill some of the more advanced Jackals and to save the desperately stupid citizens in this game. I thought, ‘Yeah, combos and increased damage, gonna help a whole bunch.’ And to my shock…. it did not. In fact, due to the strange nature of the combos, trying to pull them off actually lead to much grander casualty rate. Those poor civilians, standing by their magical crystals, refusing to run. Just staring at Avil as he flipped around in the air slashing his sword. It felt like I was showing off at the worst possible time. So combos were right out, but then I wondered something.
When you are fighting the giants, you need to enter this slow motion mode where you take aim at their armour, locks, limbs or neck. You get great distance with the attack, and it propels you around the battlefield almost Matrix style. Sure enough, you could do this on the Jackals. In fact, the Jackals would even be highlighted red when you entered this mode, so apparently, it wasn’t an oversight. And that strike, you know, the one capable of slicing limbs of giants, sure was effective on even the tougher of Jackals. Using it doesn’t subtract from your rune energy, and honestly, I couldn’t find a single situation where making regular attacks was even worth it, combo or not. My fights with Jackals quickly became slow-motion battles of me zipping between them, killing them and saving people. It felt good after I struggled so much earlier, but I remain conflicted. It seems there is an entire combat system in this game that is really not needed. In most of my time with the game, it was better to just use one attack, over and over again, and I kept hitting my chapter goals soundly. Maybe people better at combos would find a significant perk in using them, but I remain unconvinced and unsure of how I feel about it.
A Big Problem
And here we are. The final section of the review. This game has been a roller coaster of expectations and confusion on my part. Did I hate it? No. I paused several times while writing this to double check things in a “Did they really do that – or did I just imagine it?” fashion – and found myself hooked into it for several fights or just unwilling to tap out until I aced one particular chapter. Do I wholeheartedly recommend it? I would say buyer beware with this one. It’s a fun game, and I’ll more than likely revisit it. Maybe even stream it a bit. But is it a game worth USD 59.99? No. That price is way too high for the game in its current state. If it was half the price? I’d say grab it in a heartbeat. But for now, unless some significant changes are made, I would hold off until it was a sale day.
If you have money to burn then pick it up and enjoy. But I repeat, this is not a 60 dollar game in my opinion. It is fun, it does interesting things, but it is also empty right now and just filled with the whispers of promise.
Final Score: 5/10 – Enjoyable moments marred by strange design choices and vastly overpriced.
Review by Joshua Smith (Old Man Mordaith)
Edited by Jesse Roberts
This game was given to Old Man Mordaith for the purpose of review.