Preview: Lost Epic

After playing the current early access build for Lost Epic, I have mixed feelings. Or perhaps more accurately, my feelings about the game varied a lot depending on whether I was at a part of the game that felt particularly polished or one that still felt like it had most of the game’s rough edges in place.

See, I realize I’m giving something away here, but the reality is that Lost Epic is very much a side-scrolling Soulslike title with all that this entails. It’s a genre I have… if not railed against in the past, posited a complex relationship with. It’s an idea that I want to like, but it’s also one that struggles with some of its implementation, and also has the very natural problem wherein you’re stepping into a genre that is already replete with imitators and similar games. You really have to have something special on offer, and it’s an early access game, so the obvious thing you’d want (finely tuned combat and balance) will remain elusive at best.

At the same time, there are lots of things I either do like or want to like about the game. Hence mixed feelings. One moment I’d be frustrated by little parts, the next I’d go right back to wanting to like it. I think it all averages out into the positives… but if you’re looking at the game currently in early access and available on Steam, it’s probably best to outline what I experienced thus far and let you make your own decisions from there.

Epic Knights

The basic story of Lost Epic is easy enough to understand. There was an old god, and she left, which prompted the six new gods to arrive. The six new gods protect some people, but the rest of the world is left to waste away and wither without their attention. You play as a Knight, one of the otherwise withering people who the new gods have abandoned, out on a quest to find all six of these new deities and kill them.

As plots go? It’s serviceable and, honestly, pretty standard for this particular genre. The goal, naturally, is to give you a reason for being largely alone and facing a number of dangerous foes that you can only deal with by swording them up. Of course, this is also a game with a fair number of other cast members – other Knights and various NPCs you meet along the way. In contrast to the obvious inspiration (Dark Souls) these are people you can’t kill; you can only interact with them in a friendly way, which is ultimately a good thing. Of course, these interactions are strictly transactional, as your character remains mute and without motivation beyond that which you ascribe to them.

I don’t hate it, but it didn’t really light me on fire. It didn’t make me eager to learn more about this world or these people, which is what a good plot is kind of supposed to do. Then again, when you’re dealing with a genre where part of the point is to give you a reason to fight giant monsters and hack them all apart, isn’t “does the job and gets out of the way” enough? Like I said, mixed emotions.

Lost Combo

All right, let’s move on to the actual combat system. And it’s… well, it’s side-scrolling Soulslike combat, all right. You have a stamina bar that depletes as you attack, you dodge or parry abilities, you try to dodge or parry the thing until the enemy/boss is dead. You know, like a Soulslike, but it’s side-scrolling.

Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on how you view this fact – this frees you up to focus more on the specific details of the combat system. For example, the game features a number of different attack skills in the style of Code Vein, but rather than having a stamina cost or the equivalent of a mana cost they run purely on cooldowns. These skills hit hard and also fill up the target’s stagger bar, which allows you to hit an attack near the target for vastly increased damage, often instantly killing some of your weaker opponents. They each have their own areas of effect and patterns, though, so you’re encouraged to experiment with different skills over time.

There’s also the game’s rather elaborate leveling system, wherein you have to pick out one of several nodes along a sprawling tree to upgrade piece by piece. In theory, it’s a neat system. In practice… well, it’s kind of got the same problem of just making each level feel relatively insignificant, because you’re improving by a very small margin each time, along with the simple reality of having to pick up nodes you may not want because they’re along the way. It does, at least, help with making a somewhat more balanced build for newcomers.

The game also makes health-restoring items purely a reward for crafting and gathering materials, rather than having them naturally regenerate at save points and/or readily dropped by enemies. That makes you less likely to want to use a healing item, because they’re much more limited… which in turn makes you more likely to die… which makes you less likely to keep playing. It’s not one of the best parts of design.

Fortunately for the game, though, a lot of these pain points are understandable in part because the game is still in early access. It’s really easy to look at some of these things as early functional implementations that don’t entirely work, but the game isn’t yet in a launch state and there’s space for some of this to get changed. It is a bit annoying now, though.

Visual Epic

It’s hard to fault the design going on in Lost Epic as anything less than gorgeous. While the player sprite has a couple of stiff animations, most of the game looks absolutely gorgeous, with dynamic designs, scaling movements, and a painterly aesthetic that makes everything feel lush and realized as you move through the world. Even the stuff animations don’t really stand out all that much, and they’re minor things, not huge jarring errors in how characters or bodies move.

The music and sound effects, meanwhile, are just sort of there. Not terribly catchy or anything, but appropriate for the genre. I have to admit that I am quite fond of the music that plays when you come back to the game, it’s got a very soothing property to it, but I didn’t find any of it sticking in my head after the game shut down and I certainly wasn’t humming along with it.

Also, it always throws me a little bit that the health bar is blue while the stamina bar is green. That’s really irrelevant but it just kind of bugs me for some reason.

Potential Win

In some ways, I feel the same way about Lost Epic that I tend to feel about side-scrolling soulslike games more often than not. It’s a lot of neat ideas, but it doesn’t quite coalesce. At the same time, though, I also feel more than a little emboldened because Lost Epic isn’t actually a finished game just yet. There’s a lot of polish, a lot of things I do like about it, and I almost find myself more hopeful as a result of that that it’s going to pull things together and develop into a much better game all around.

There’s a good potential on display here, definitely the sort of thing that could work. If some of its development time is devoted to polishing problems and improving flow rather than just adding more content, it’s very possible this game could be a pretty worthy contender in its field.

Or maybe it’ll just keep being just good enough and never quite surpass the limitations of its genre. Like I said, mixed feelings. But at least mixed feelings edging toward positive.

Preview copy provided by oneoreight for PC. Screenshots courtesy of oneoreight.