Even though it’s still in Early Access on Steam, Portal Knights has become something of a phenomenon among its growing user base. According to 505 Games, to date players have:
– Looted more than 232 million items
– Mined more than 103 million blocks
– Killed more than 23 million enemies
– Crafted more than 19 million items
and yes indeed, I’m one of those players having a blast with the title. While it does start out a wee bit slowly, some literal digging around in that first (and later, every) area will have you soon seeing that there’s a great deal under the pretty surface that really goes a long way in making things even more entertaining. While geared towards younger players (note that E10+ rating above), the RPG elements, often challenging combat, crafting and exploration elements have a very wide appeal for novices as well as hardcore gamers looking for the next big deal.
Things kick of simply enough with a character creation screen where you choose your gender and select one of three classes (Warrior, Archer, Mage) before warping into the first randomly generated world. There’s a set of basic tutorial pop-ups that cover a few things and Minecraft fans will probably get wise to what to do a wee bit faster than anyone who’s not played that game. That said, there are enough differences from that game (and the side-scrolling Terraria) that set it apart. For one thing, other than the simplistic character faces and baggy starter outfits, the visuals (which run at a zippy 60fps) are much more appealing and lively here. Rich colors and nifty visual effects abound in each area, making exploration always fun when you make it to new worlds. Monster types are nicely varied as well, changing at night to deadlier varieties once you unlock your first portal.
While the randomly generated worlds vary in size and some may seem too small once you locate the portal to the next area, as noted, a bit of digging reveals some nice surprises. Knock a hole into the side of a dirt or rock wall and don’t be surprised if you discover a dark, deadly underground cavern that requires you to tote a torch or other light source around. You’ll run into assorted worm-like creatures and other beasties plus hidden treasure and possibly even new crafting materials to play around with. The crafting is great and necessary from the outset. You start off with a basic weapon and what looks like baggy pajamas, but by gathering cotton, wood, stone and other materials, you can repair the workbench in that first house and get better gear.
Initially, you can only craft a handful of objects. But taking trips to new locations and discovering new materials allows you to upgrade your original work areas and create new ones that expand your crafting horizons considerably. Going from making basic clothes and simple weapons to crafting magic gear with incredible bonuses is a satisfying feeling, particularly when you’re able to take on tough enemies and bosses with a lot more confidence. One nice thing here is (so far) any class can use any weapon, but it’s best to stick to gear for your chosen class because of the obvious damage bonuses as you whip up better weapons and armor. Yes, its easy to get lost for hours mining up materials, creating new paths to reach out of the way goodies or appropriate blocks to complete a previously damaged structure. But as with any solid game, coming up for air with a ton of treasure and newfound respect for those hard fought victories is always rewarding.
As the game has gotten a few patches since its Early Access launch, there’s not much to gripe about overall because the game is still a work in progress but polished enough to be close to a full on release. More face, hair and body type options would be cool to see and while the cute style works well, perhaps some modding options would be a fun thing to see if they allow players to get a lot more flexible with the character editor. Keyboard/mouse controls are great, but I can see a few console raised players begging for controller options. That said, the game is a practical no-brainer for a console port at some point because it’s gorgeous, simple to pick up and addictive as heck. As for online play, I’ve yet to find a game to join, but that’s because no one on my Steam Friends List is playing. That will be remedied soon enough as Portal Knights is enough infectious fun to want to spread around to anyone interested in what it has to offer.