“Sailing takes me away to where I’ve always heard it could be” – Christopher Cross
Usually I don’t write reviews and this isn’t because I don’t like it, but because, in my opinion, it is a very demanding and challenging task (especially for me and my poor English…).
But, as you certainly know, in life there are always exceptions.
Sometime the release of certain games – games you are attracted to for some inexplicable reason – represent the perfect occasion to challenge yourself with a review.
Obviously the game we’re talking about is Horizon’s Gate, an indie release unknown to the majority of people but also a game with very intriguing premises.
Maybe some of you may remember an old game called Voidspire Tactics. It was released few years ago (2015, to be exact) by Rad Codex, a very small indie development team leaded by Sean Hayden, which, despite its simplistic pixe-graphic, was a hidden gem. The reasons? Simple: the game – a nostalgic tactical-RPG – had a very deep and strategic combat system combined with an original setting and some funny ideas. The result was a sleeper hit (if you missed Voidspire Tactics you can still recover it on Steam), a game perfect for nostalgic gamers like me.
So, when, after five long years, I heard about the release of their new game (in the middle they also released Alvora Tactics, a sort of spinoff/dungeon crawler based on the same engine), my hype was sky-high, manly because this time Rad Codex was determined to aim high, really high!
Imagine a RPG open-world where you can have your own fleet, fight thugs and monster in engaging on-foot combat, face naval battles on your caravel, look for treasures and revenge! A dream that comes true? Nearly, nearly…
Yeah, behind Horizon’s Gate there is a story… but it is a little story and this is real a pity, because with this setting they could have done much more.
Let’s say that when you start a new game you’re basically given a long-term objective and then you can do whatever you want until you level is high enough to fight the final battle and beat the game.
So we can say that the game is a true open-world where the story is just in the background and you can freely choose to write your own future! You can decide to be a well-known trader, a fighter of monster, you can do quests for a guild and you can even work for a governor. The main goal remain the same: if you want your revenge you crew and your fleet must grow until you are able to fight the final (and tough) battle!
In truth, besides your final goal (the mentioned sweet revenge!), during your play-through, you can even obtain some small extra objectives (for example, to reach a certain level of fame and so on), but these are always very generic. In othere words nothing will force you to do something in a certain moment and the game will never led you by hand in the name of a “total freedom”.
In this regard, Horizon’s Gate can represent a step backward compared to their previous title (Voidspire Tactics). I mean, I like very much when you are free to do whatever you want, but I prefer to have also a story to follow, at least from time to time (my mind goes to title like Pathfinder: Kingmaker, who offers a good example of “balanced freedom”). But I think this is just a matter of taste.
Here is where the game really rocks!
Horizon’s Gate has a very rich gameplay and it’s incredible to think that behind this game there is just a so small team.
As I said before, at a first glance you can really do a lot of things: trade, fight, recover lost artefacts and treasures, accomplish quests for the governors and so on. Literally everything offers chances to gain gold, fame and exp and the best thing is that is all up to you!
But that’s not all. Even if you have many things to do, none of them will ever be too simplistic or too tricky. We can safely say that each activity has the right degree of complexity and this makes the game always entertaining.
So, for example, if you decide to trade goods, you have only to keep in mind that the farther is the place where you want to sell them, the higher will be the earnings. That’s all!
And if, otherwise, you prefer to fight and kill some monsters, the gold rule is to affiliate to a guild and go in search of monsters dans (never too far from the guild itself).
Everything is always quite straightforward and coherent.
Just after a few hours it becomes clear that the core of Horizon’s Gate is the exploration. And here is the main problem of the game, in my humble opinion…
Because a game with so big map, with tons of towns and a plethora of NPCs could easily become the paradise of all the adventurers, but only on one condition: if the game is always able to offer something new to do.
Unfortunately, after a few hours of play, it becomes clear that, beneath the shiny surface, Horizon’s Gate lacks in variety. The towns – except the capitals, maybe – have all the same shops; the NPC are almost useless because they rarely offer some kind of sub-quest; the world doesn’t offer real dungeons to explore (just some sort of mini-dungeon composed of two single maps…) and so on.
That’s a pity because is like having a wonderful container (because Horizon’s Gate IS a wonderful container!) but without enough contents.
Besides, it must be said that the game always offers the right level of difficulty. Hard but never frustrating.
So, for example, during the exploration of the map you cannot simply go from a place to another, but you have always to keep in mind many variables: the food, the fame, the investment you make in each settlement and so on. Nothing overcomplicated but – at the same time – nothing too simple.
A separate discussion deserves the combat system, maybe the best feature of the game.
Since the beginning you have to build up a party. Each member can choose a class and a set of skills (passives and actives). The best thing is that there a lot of classes and each one has dozens of skills (most of them really funny and useful). Another interesting feature is that the exp they gain is class-related, so they can use exp they gained only to level up the skills related to that specific class.
Besides, certain classes require a trainer that you can find in some towns. Overall the RPG features of the game are really well-done.
The results of this system are very deep and strategic on-foot battles that makes each fight really delightful.
The naval battles are a bit different and simpler. In this case, the most important variable becomes the cannons you decide to buy and use. There are many kinds of weapons, each one with its particular pros and cons, but you can install only two of them on each ship, so this limitation makes your decision very strategic.
The Graphic and the Sound
What can we say about graphic and sound?
Overall the pixel graphic of the game is fascinating and the efforts of the developers to push to the limit the game engine is worthy.
There’ve been some improvements over past games but obviously you cannot expect outstanding landscapes or ultra-detailed towns.
The music is banging, mind you, nothing memorable just a dozen’s of tunes, but they are all quite nice and catchy.