First-person RPGs tend to be slow affairs where you're dragged down by slow combat and spending skill points. I had the chance to check out Void Arena, a game that aims to make a better kind of RPG
I first heard about this game earlier this year and had a chat with Void Arena creator Sad_Gandalf. The design he explained to me was pretty simple: there are no levels, skill points, or attribute points to worry about. Instead, all of your stats are determined by your gear. With a Kickstarter campaign underway, I checked out the publicly available demo to see if this very early version of Void Arena lives up to that promise.
Entering the Void
My journey with Void Arena began by downloading the demo from the game's official website. This is a somewhat barebones demo, but there's still a fair amount of content to keep a player occupied for an hour or two at the minimum.
Things kick off with creating your character, natch. The only available option is to create a male human, but the finished product aims to have men and women of three playable races in all. I whipped up a new character and dove into a new fantasy world.
You'll have to go through a quick tutorial before you can really get into the meat of the demo. The tutorial explains simple concepts like double jumping, interacting with switches, unlocking new powers, and fighting with enemies. It was a little unintuitive at times, but I managed to figure things out after a few minutes and successfully defeat the boss at the end. With that complete, I was unceremoniously dumped into a floating city amongst the stars: Sanctuary.
Weapons of War
What makes Void Arena unique in the RPG genre is how it handles your character. I picked up a couple of pieces of gear from the tutorial and scored a free weapon from an NPC; beyond that, I was on my own.
The demo is somewhat limited in where a gamer can go — tutorial aside, there are only options to explore two kinds of dungeons. One of these is an outdoor area covered with white stone structures and the other is a dark, terrifying cave. That said, you encounter the same kinds of enemies regardless of where you go.
Your weapon on its own isn't all that useful — it's more of a medium for enhancing your stats. There are several basic attacks that are either melee or ranged that will do a bit of damage and refill your mana. That mana is used for more devastating attacks, whether it's a small, area-of-effect fireball, a debuff, a protective ability, or something else entirely.
I went with a ranged caster for my first go-around and I honestly had a blast; it felt like I was playing an arena shooter such as Quake but with ice bolts and fireballs instead of shotguns and rocket launchers. My character was nimble — a double-jump is a default ability for all characters — and I had a surprising number of options for taking things beyond that.
Gearing Up for Battle
Simply put, Void Arena is all about building a truly custom character however you can. This comes down to the two halves of the whole: your selected skills and your equipment.
Equipment can increase your various stats (such as damage, maximum health, or mana regeneration); these stats determine how effective you are in combat. Taking on more challenging dungeons rewards you in higher-quality gear and effectively accelerates your growth as a character, but you can always step things down to something easier if you can't quite beat a certain level.
On the other side of the coin, your selected spells determine how you do damage and how you protect yourself. There are six total slots available and dozens of potential abilities that you can use. I built up mana with a ranged magical attack, slapped baddies in the face with a fireball, and air-dashed out of the way if something got too close. I later switched things up to a melee build, using protective buffs and damage enhancements to stand my ground and cleave through enemies rather than fighting from the edges.
I faced plenty of tough choices when it came to picking up new gear — do I take more maximum health or more health regen? Is it worth losing some maximum damage to let my fireballs pierce through enemies instead of exploding on contact? Void Arena's demo was exceedingly generous with its rewards, although that's no guarantee that the finished product will play out the same way.
Can Void Arena Deliver a Better RPG?
From what I've seen so far, Void Arena is cooking up an interesting RPG experience that I've never seen before. That said, there's a long road ahead for High Level Studios.
The fundamentals of a good game are already established. The demo is a bit janky here and there, yes, but the core gameplay loop shows a lot of promise. I can imagine dozens of different character builds depending on the spells you pick and the gear you wear — and this was just a taste of what's to come.
Void Arena might be the most excited I've been for a fantasy role-playing game in a long time. I'm very much looking forward to how High Level Studios will flesh this game out into something that can hopefully live up to its grand ambitions.