CRPGs as a market are, admittingly a small niche. The revival of CRPGs thanks to Pillars of Eternity has pushed it into a more mainstream spot than before, but let's be real, it’s a hard sell to push a text-heavy, mechanics-heavy RPG no matter how many bells and whistles are on the package. Great games like Wrath of the Righteous are still great, even if it fits that niche. For the Italian studio, Gamera Interactive hopes to try and spice up the niche by bringing in another subset of players with their first published release, Alaloth: Champions of the Four Kingdoms.
Alaloth is a classic RPG that is directly influenced by the likes of Baldur’s Gate in design and sensibilities, but not necessarily mechanics. Instead, Gamera Interactive is trying to emulate the more chaotic, action-oriented combat from the likes of Diablo. Diablo is, for all intents and purposes, the action-heavy, hack and slash equivalent to other CRPGs, but there is no denying that this style of play is more popular. So how does Gamera thread the needle between CRPG sensibilities and action RPG hack and slash?
The premise of Alaloth is a simple one; you are a chosen champion who must fight the demonic entity known as Alaloth. Your task is to gather four artifacts of power; one in each of the four kingdoms of the world, and battle Alaloth to prevent him from taking over the world. It is a basic setup and narrative-wise. Alaloth focuses heavily on its mechanics though to give the narrative more depth and complexity.
This is done through the basic mechanical choices. For one, you have two gameplay mode choices, a single-player campaign, and a competitive campaign. The competitive campaign is much more interesting, as it randomly selects three other champions competing with the player to collect the four artifacts. Each of the randomly chosen champions has its own alignments and progression; some will succeed in getting artifacts before you, and all will begin hunting you down as you grow in power.
This adds a lot more to your experience in Alaloth. Having rival champions, compounded with the multiple factions you will be interacting with, add more subtle wrinkles to your overall player experience. Gamera noted that many players may be turned off by overly wrought exposition dumps and lore finding, so they relegated it to marked NPCs and characters who you can speak about throughout the game. This not only enriches the world lore, but can even lead to accessing different choices in dialogue along with some quest lines, and of course, factional politics spicing things up even further.
Another element that is important is time. The game's premise pretty much revolves around it; since you have only a certain amount of time to collect the four artifacts to defeat Alaloth, or else he grows in power. This makes traveling on the world map more dangerous as Alaloth’s influence and minions begin to roam the world. Gamera interactive however spices things up further by incorporating a day/night cycle into the mechanics of the game. Certain merchants, for example, will travel to a specific festival during a certain time of the year on the calendar, so clever players can time their own movements to meet that merchant for rare materials or items. Some quests will require you to enter fighting areas on the map at a certain time of the year in order to be completed as well.
This is what is impressive about Alaloth as a game; the hidden depths of its systems. Alignment, for example; is a staple in traditional Dungeons and Dragons-like games like Baldurs Gate or Pathfinder. For Alaloth, the selection of alignment locks out potential questlines, and also limits who your potential companions are out of a pool of 12. Your choice of race also determines access to crafting materials and starting kingdom, with some items being incredibly rare or non-existent in your region. Crafting is relatively basic, but you need the right materials and the right blacksmith to get what you want, and of course, as you grow in reputation, you get access to more items from certain merchants too.
All of this allows for a variety of replayability by design, something Gamera is hoping will fully engage players. What’s more, most of these are optional, from lore to timed events to item interaction, it is there if the player wants to fully engage with it. If that doesn’t catch them though, the combat certainly will.
The more Diablo-side of things is the combat system, which employs a very strategic layer of action. Throughout the world, there are fighting areas, which act as the dungeons of the game. When you enter a fighting area, you have limited resources at your disposal; players can only carry 4 potions on them at a time, for example. So using a combination of physical attacks, special powers, and other skills, you will need to be strategic in fighting off the enemy hordes of these areas.
Those hordes can be grueling too. Undead are slow but difficult to kill without holy powers, while goblins rush you like a swarm to overwhelm you. Humanoids like bandits use more tactics, attacking with defenders at the front to absorb blows while others fight from behind to catch you off-guard. The enemy variety has a bit of variation so far, and players need to adjust to survive.
Thankfully you have plenty of options on how to approach combat. The player character in Alaloth can be molded into a character class through power selection. You start the game with a single weapon type, but you are not locked into any stats or proficiency. Instead, Gamera opted for a more streamlined, action-focused progression system. You level up by clearing a fighting area, which gives you access to three different items, skills, stats, and traits. Stats provide percentage bonuses to strength, constitution, dexterity, and luck. Traits can give you resistance to certain attacks, change cooldowns for skills, and more passive bonuses.
The real meat of the system is skills, and cooldown abilities that provide benefits from healing spells, summoning creatures, special attacks, or magical attacks. It is through skills you can customize your character; for example, you want to heal and turn undead? Only a cleric is able to do that, so you need to choose the appropriate skills to even try. In total there are 36 different skills to pick from, each of them themed to a ‘class’ you would typically see in an RPG, and keeps the door wide open for customized character builds that are not overly overwhelming the player with crunchy numbers all the time.
All of this adds more dimensions to the gameplay beyond button-mashing hack and slash. Fighting enemies with shields will be about dodging or finding openings in their defense, using magic to aid you in combat when you're swarmed allow for more flexibility to prevent the gameplay from becoming too stale.
Gamera Interactive has put a lot of work into Alaloth, and it shows. Combining the action-heavy combat with some classic RPG exploration, a variety of promised questlines, and plenty of small design choices offer a rich experience to be sure. Gamera is promising a lot more, too, with the ability to play couch co-op with another player, to adding more quests, fixes, and other bits while the game is in early access.
Alaloth: Champions of the Four Kingdoms is shaping up to be a solid experience ultimately. The blending of CRPG exploration and Diablo-Esque gameplay is a delicate balance to find, and so far Gamera has threaded that needle quite well. With Alaloth entering early access, there is also plenty of room for more, which I look forward to seeing when the game does release.
TechRaptor previewed Alaloth: Champions of the Four Kingdoms on PC using a copy provided by the developers.