Lichdom: Battlemage is quite an interesting game. It plays a lot like a typical shooter, but the main character is actually a pure mage. While this means it may not greatly appeal to those who enjoy hardcore RPGs, shooter gamers may find a home here trading in their AKs for fireballs and various other magically destructive spells.
Developed by Xaviant, it was originally released for the PC in 2014. It achieved mixed reviews there. A lot of the praise it got was because it offered pretty unique gameplay. But much of the criticism came from the fact that the gameplay seemed more suited for the console. Now, Maximum Games has moved Lichdom over to the PlayStation 4 (the version reviewed here) and the Xbox One. Unfortunately, the game got a bumpy ride when landing on consoles too, mostly because of really bad framerate problems. That CryEngine is a real double-edged sword. It looks great, but can really kill games with framerate problems. Thankfully, a patch was recently released (which is why I was waiting to file the review) that makes the performance much more acceptable, if not quite optimal. So this review will be using the latest patch.
Interestingly enough, the main character in Lichdom: Battlemage is not actually a mage. He or she (you can pick) is just a normal commoner who gets chosen to become “The Dragon” which is basically just someone who wears magical bracers that give then unlimited magic powers. It will also resurrect you if you die, so in any fantasy or Dungeon and Dragons type of game, they would essentially be the most powerful artifact ever created. You become practically a god when wearing them.
The odd thing is that you are not the first person to wear the bracers. You see echoes from the past as you travel left by other so-called Dragons who wore the bracers before you. There were at least 12 others who came before, and since they are no longer around, one can only assume that something bad must have happened to them. The game does a lot to leave you in the dark, only dripping the lore out in small does as you journey.
Regardless of your history, you take the role of a powerful archmage. There is no mana in the game. You can cast spells as often as you can click the buttons on your controller. Or, you can hold the buttons to charge the spell, delivering an automatic critical hit when released. It’s quite powerful, especially at first when you are just being attacked by cultists and some skeletal undead. Even in a hoard, you can make quite work of them.
There are eight sigils that act as the heart of your spells. Many are typical fantasy fare like fire and ice, though some are more interesting concepts like corruption and delirium. Each sigil has three possible spells that you can cast using them. The first is generally a missile type spell that shoots over long distance. The second is a shield that blocks and can even reflect damage. The third is an area of effect weapon for taking out large groups. They can be cast using the L2 and R2 triggers easily enough, or by holding both of them down for the AOE version.
Although you can have three spells per sigil loaded at any one time, the number of possible spells you can load up in them is practically unlimited. There is a deep crafting system in the game that allows you to pick a sigil, then shape it into a pattern and finally attune it to create an effect. You can make a missile that splits into groups, or lob a spell that hits and splatters on the ground, or a trap that triggers when an enemy walks across it. You can burn them, confuse them, freeze them or mesmerize them, depending on your preferences. You also need to find the various components in order to manipulate those spells, which come from monster drops or sometimes as part of the story progression. In fact, getting good at crafting is probably almost as important as your running and gunning, er a, sprinting and spelling, skills.
The crafting system is easy to use but very difficult to master. The game does very little to actually explain things to you, which on the one hand is kind of cool because your character is not a mage by trade, so he or she would need to figure it out too. But it’s also frustrating as a player trying to have fun. Case in point, I made what I thought was an amazing spell, but I attuned it (the third slot in the crafting) to something other than destruction. So my amazing AOE missile was just debuffing bad guys, though they did look annoyed at the twinkling I summoned around them as they continued to charge forward. I was left with no actual offensive spell and had to run back to a safe area to re-craft. So getting good at crafting can literally mean life and death, but if you really can’t figure it out, the game provides a descent auto crafting system which should help out quite a bit.
The plot of the game is nothing special, though the ghosts of other Dragons is an interesting touch that makes you wonder if you are being lied to somehow. Gameplay consists of running through various levels and killing monsters. It’s very much like a Call of Duty type of game in that respect. Not exactly completely linear, but far from open world.
You can take cover as the game provides plenty of places to do that and I found that combat was really fluid. I was able to do a lot of neat things like planting magical traps in narrow areas where melee attackers would need to traverse, or sniping ranged enemies and then magically dodging back into cover. Once the framerate patch was applied, I found myself having a lot of fun with Lichdom: Battlemage, and playing for hours on end in a sort of enjoyable trance.
Graphically, the game is really beautiful. The CryEngine makes everything from monsters to dungeons to cities look nice. If the environments were more destructible they might be even more fun, but as it stands there is a pretty background framing all the combat. Enemies tend to explode in a pile of bones or goo depending on the spell, which is a nice visual touch that really makes you feel powerful as a mage laying waste to hordes of bad guys.
I completed the game on normal difficulty in about 15 hours, doing just about every quest that was presented to me – which is a key way to gather rare crafting components to make more powerful spells. I found that I relied heavily on fire, and may go back and replay it again trying to make better use of the more clever sigils. So at least for me and the hardcore crafters out there, there should be a lot of replay value.
Lichdom: Battlemage has had a bit of a checkered past, but the game seems at home on the console, at least once the patches have been applied. It creates a new type of gameplay and gives spell slingers some much needed love. It should be fun for shooters looking for a unique challenge, and also for crafters looking to challenge their brains along with their brawn.