Developed by Germany's 3D People studios, Heretic Kingdoms: The Inquisition is an isometric action (Diablo-style) role-playing game set in a morally treacherous fantasy realm. Set just after the fall of a theocratic tyrant, the game plays out in a world where gangs of vicious inquisitors roam the land, seeking to stamp out all signs of religion and spirituality. Unlike many adventures in the style, Heretic Kingdoms develops along a plotline that may be significantly influenced by role-playing decisions the player makes. The game also distinguishes itself with an open-ended system of skills and abilities designed to offer exceptional freedom in character development.
Heretic Kingdoms is a fun little role-playing game. In Heretic Kingdoms, you play an Inquisitor in a fictional land, tasked with the stamping out of religion wherever you might find it. Hundreds of years ago, the God of the Land was killed by a man wielding the Godslayer sword, but now a secretive cult has formed, and it intends to use the sword to resurrect the dead god. That is obviously a threat to the Inquisition, and so you're sent out to find and destroy the sword. But as luck would have it, you're a descendent of the man who killed the god, which means you could use the sword if you wanted to. So will you stay faithful to the Inquisition, help the cult bring back the god, or use the sword for yourself?
Oddly, that decision is almost the only one you'll have to make during Heretic Kingdoms, and you won't have to make it until the game is nearly over. That is, Heretic Kingdoms, despite what its official web site might imply -- "your actions will lead to one of six different endings" -- does not offer much in the way of role playing. You don't get dialogue choices, you can only play a female character, and your biggest decision outside of the Godslayer sword involves picking out which thief faction you want to support when the thieves' guild has a civil war. In other words, Heretic Kingdoms isn't for people who only enjoy complicated Fallout-style role-playing games. It's for people who enjoyed Diablo II but who would have liked a better story to go with it.
Gameplay in Heretic Kingdoms is about what you'd expect from an action role-playing game. Most of the quests involve killing things or fetching things, and the interface uses the standard approach of left clicking to move your character and right clicking to attack enemies or open containers. In fact, one of the biggest pluses of the game is that its mechanics are so streamlined. You won't have any companions joining up with you in your quests, and so you won't have to worry about how to control them, and you won't have to shuffle objects around to keep them equipped. And there aren't any spells in the game -- although special "focus" weapons can have spell-like effects -- and so you won't have to worry about organizing your spells so you can cast them in battle. Pretty much all you have to do in the game is left click and right click, and so it's easy to get started.
Now, if a game is too simplistic then it can get boring in a hurry. But Heretic Kingdoms does some unique and interesting things. For starters, it uses a system of "attunements." Attunements are difficult to explain (which is perhaps why the game's manual doesn't even try), but basically they're bonuses that you can apply to your character, and that you can only gain if you wear specific pieces of equipment during battle. For example, a shield might have the "reflect" attunement attached to it, which would allow you to reflect some damage back at your attackers, and if you use the shield enough, you'll gain the attunement. Then, every time you rest in the game, you can choose which of your attunements you want to make active (up to a maximum number of attunements based on your level). Attunements make it fun to try out different pieces of equipment, because you never know what you might get.
Heretic Kingdoms also includes a "dreamworld." The dreamworld is the same as the regular world, but it's the plane of existence where spirits and demons reside. So at one point you're visiting a town that has a small and seemingly empty graveyard, but if you move to the dreamworld you'll find a spirit there who needs your help. At another point a woman claims to be haunted, and you can travel to the dreamworld to find out what's going on. The dreamworld is an extremely cool concept, with all sorts of potential, but unfortunately it's mostly just used in the game as an extra place to kill things.
In all, Heretic Kingdoms does more new things in one game than I've seen in the last dozen games I've played combined. Overall, I enjoyed playing Heretic Kingdoms. Its fast pace and effective story-telling won me over, and I'd recommend it to all fans of action role-playing games.
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