Even before I read Harry Potter when I was younger, I was obsessed with magic and potions. I was always experimenting with pouring shampoo and soap bottles into each other and pretending they’d have weird effects other than just “more bubbles.” I’d go into the number of times I dressed up as a witch on Halloween, but that’s really not relevant to why I decided to hop on Potion Craft: Alchemist Simulator as soon as I heard about it. What is relevant is that this game from niceplay games and tinyBuild is an interesting foray and a fresh new take on the ever-popular simulation genre.
The story of Potion Craft is pretty simple, as the game isn’t really plot-heavy. You found an abandoned alchemist’s house and decided to move in and start plying your trade, though you don’t know a whole lot about the more complex aspects of alchemy, to tell the truth. What’s the harm in figuring it out as you go along? No, seriously, that’s what the main character decides to do is basically fake it till they make it. It’s a simple story, sure, but it holds the gameplay together and gives it a reason for existing at all, so it’s refreshingly straightforward.
Potion Craft’s characters consist mainly of recurring visitors to the shop, like the Herbalist, the Mushroom Man, the Miner and your fellow Alchemist. There’s also the vaguely menacing guy who keeps asking for acids and poison but to be honest, I’ve tried to avoid him, for obvious reasons. The characters are fun and you get to learn more about them over your repeated interactions, but no one is ever fully realized and fleshed out, as they’re not meant to be. Like with the plot, the characters are there to fill a purpose and to add some comedy to what would otherwise be straightforward monetary transactions, which they do wonderfully.
The primary focus in Potion Craft is the alchemy itself. Instead of following recipes or going hunting for ingredients, you’re given an empty map with a potion bottle in the center. Adding ingredients to the potion, and in different forms, will move this bottle around the map and lets you find bottles of Effects marked on the map. Want to create a love potion? Move your bottle to the Love effect and pump the bellows to heat it up. Potions can have multiple effects on them and your customers can ask for potions that do up to three things.
Exploring the alchemy map is a huge undertaking, with plenty of potion effects to find. Of course, you can’t go in a straight line from one to the other as there are “dead zones” marked by skulls and bones that will destroy your potion if you get too close. It’s easy to make your first few potions, but it’s tricky to master navigating the maze of dead zones long enough to find some of the more complicated effects, which require far more ingredients to reach.
The biggest complaint about the map is that, unfortunately, it’s not connected to your customers in the shop. After you pass alchemy master level I, customers can ask for any potion, even if you haven’t discovered the right effect to create it yet. While this is meant to encourage exploration of the map, it can get frustrating when you can’t find just the right effect and multiple customers need to be turned away.
Balancing mechanics in the game are mostly fair, though again, once you get past alchemy master level I, you’re on your own in the wild, though the game has a good tutorial up until that point. The most difficult challenges I faced were running out of ingredients what seemed like constantly and having to turn away paying customers for it. Resource management is key to succeeding, but the game doesn’t always make that easy on you. Trial and error are the only way forward at points, which is frustrating but also rewarding.
Potion Craft’s medieval aesthetic is one of the best things about the game. With traditional, medieval-esque music and illustrations that look like they’ve been written on a 12th-century manuscript, it definitely sets the game apart from any other alchemy game I’ve played before and gives it a fun flavor. Oddly, this also makes the game more calming, even when you get stuck trying to find a particular effect or trying to balance customers’ morals and your shop’s reputation.
All in all, Potion Craft: Alchemist Simulator is off to a good start. The medieval aesthetic sets it apart from the crowd, as does the basic mechanic of creating potions via a map rather than by recipe or random experimentation. There are several features in the game that are marked as “coming soon” and it seems to be set up for expansive success. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find out if one of these is a soap potion.
TechRaptor previewed Potion Craft: Alchemist Simulator on PC with a copy provided by the publisher. It will be launching for PC via Steam on September 21, 2021.