Publisher: Strategy First
Developer: Quotix Software
N Amer - 06/26/2007
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Call for Heroes: Pompolic Wars Review
Somewhere deep inside in Quotix Software’s “Call for Heroes: Pompolic Wars” (CfH) is the potential for an entertaining hack n’ slash fantasy romp, but that potential is crushed under the weight of the title’s downright frustrating gameplay mechanics, uninspiring visuals, and threadbare story.
CfH, played strictly from the third-person perspective, is set in an unnamed world which has been all but overrun by the forces of darkness spearheaded by the powerful titular demon, Pompolic. As the title announces, the world is in dire need of a hero to save the day; hence, your call to action. Players can choose from one of two characters: a warrior (male) or Amazon (female). As one would expect, the warrior specializes in melee combat while the Amazon is a master of ranged weaponry (though she executes melee attacks as well) and stealth. Each character comes with a unique set of weapons and 15 special abilities. However, if you are keen on personally customizing your character’s appearance, you’re out of luck in CfH, as no such options are available. You can type in a name for your character at the start, but it’s only for the sake of creating a profile for your saved games, rather than forging a unique identity that will have a presence in-game.
The underlying gameplay mechanic in CfH is quite stratightforward: cut your way through hordes of mindless enemies as you collect varying numbers of “Dark Souls,” objects through which Pompolic wields his power, until you get a shot at breaking the demon’s grip on your world. These objects are scattered throughout various places on any given map. Each map is timed, but you can extend your time through pick-ups, so the timer is never really an issue. Once you have collected enough Dark Souls, you can teleport to the next level. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Sounds like standard hack n’ slash fare, right?
Well, one of the major issues with CfH is that you have to kill just about every enemy that spawns on the map because once they have been alerted to your presence, they will hunt you until they or you are killed, and you can be easily overwhelmed by a huge mob if you don’t take care of enemies when you first aggro them. You might be asking yourself, “So? What’s the problem?” Every time you pick up a Dark Soul, enemy monster guardians spawn and immediately come after you, often in groups of 3-5. Now, if you find your health getting low and you run and grab one or more of the health vials liberally scattered throughout the level (which restore only a few HP), there is a chance more enemies might spawn (as they often do), and now you have 6 or seven baddies trying to take you out, and you start losing HP faster, so you try to run and grab more health, which can spawn several more … See where I am going here? The game also offers health potions, which restore substantially more HP than the vials, but they are also less abundant. Furthermore, you can easily consume a good number of potions in just one fight against four or more enemies. Or worse, you could run out of potions during a fight and then be forced to run and pick up health vials/potions in order to stay alive, which puts you in the predicament I described earlier. It’s almost as if you are being punished for trying to get health. This dynamic is further aggravated by the fact that (once you get past the first couple of levels) your health drains quickly when you are under attack, especially against multiple enemies that deal ranged damage. The warrior can use a shield, once he finds it, but its damage mitigation is laughable. Couple this with the fact that after collecting so many Dark Souls, you experience a kind of spiritual poisoning, during which you cannot run and you take double damage, so each one of the mobs you are currently facing now does twice as much damage and you can’t flee. Yep, it’s as much fun as it sounds.
Adding to the frustration of being so easily outnumbered and defeated is the fact that you cannot save your game voluntarily. That’s right. The game is saved automatically, only upon completing a level. If you get tired of looking for the last 3 of 33 Dark Souls in a given level and want to quit, either pause the game and leave the computer on until you’re ready to continue, or you will have to find all of them again when you next boot the game up. However, CfH features a player-controlled respawn system. As long as you have collected at least one respawn icon, you can, upon death, respawn at the beginning of the map and continue your quest during your current gaming session. You know the potential problem this creates? Yep. If the game crashes (which it did several times during my gaming sessions) and you are still working your way through a level, you will have to restart from the very beginning. Need I mention the time I had been playing a level for 30+ minutes and required 1 last Dark Soul to open the portal to the next level, only to yell in horror when the game crashed as I grabbed a health vial? To be fair, CfH doesn’t appear to be prone to crashes, but it happened enough to leave me too frustrated to restart levels after completely losing 20 or even 30 minutes of gameplay. This is too tall an order, given how much work staying alive often is.
As mentioned earlier, the Amazon has stealth abilities, including a rather cool one that allows her to drop a device that casts an area of effect invisibility spell. Such abilities are nice for sneaking around and making a temporary escape, but the stealth element doesn’t have any offensive benefits. As far as I can tell, attacking an unsuspecting enemy while invisible doesn’t dole out any more damage than a non-stealth attack. This doesn’t render the stealth abilities useless by any means, but dealing additional damage while stealthed would have been a nice touch, right?
On another note, CfH features some RPG elements, as both your character and weapons can be upgraded. You earn experience from combat, and once you hit a predetermined number of points, you can choose to upgrade one of three stats: health, armor, or strength. When you level up, you also get to add one of 15 special abilities. Weapons, however, can be upgraded by picking up their corresponding upgrade icons. Upgrading weapons in this fashion adds an alternate attack. Additionally, the more you use a weapon, the better you become at using it, which means you will dish out one-hit-kills and critical hits more frequently. These are nice touches. Additionally, the game offers a solid array of weapons and abilities across the two characters. For instance, there is a special warrior ability that creates a floating cube which shoots out thorns at nearby enemies within range, and the Amazon can acquire powers of regeneration that will rejuvenate her health and mana.
However, a number of the weapons you have access to will drain one or both of the two types of mana present in the game: green and blue. Neither the manual nor the game explain the difference between the two mana types. All I know is that some weapons don’t drain mana while others do, and those that do may drain one or both types. The problem with this mechanic is that those weapons that are dependent on mana for use are, of course, unusable if you run out of the specific mana that’s needed, so you can be in the middle of a fight and suddenly not be able to swing your mace because your blue mana pool is drained. Then, you have to quickly switch to a weapon that doesn’t require blue mana to continue fighting, all the while being damaged by the aggressive, mindless AI. As if that wasn’t enough, there is no logical explanation for why performing a standard melee attack with a handaxe should require mystical energy. I’m not casting a spell, and the weapon is not enchanted; I just want to hit the enemy right in front of me, but I can’t swing an axe because my green mana is gone? It just doesn’t make any sense, especially given that many of the weapons that drain mana also drain your character’s stamina. . . Why not have standard attacks drain stamina only and save the mana drain for the more powerful alternate attacks?
Another significant issue with CfH is how its story is presented. You will play through level after level with your unnamed character in an unnamed world without getting even a hint of story or character development. If you are wondering who you are, good luck with finding an answer. Want some dialogue or information to fill out more of the story as you progress through the levels? Good luck with that. Trying to figure out your character’s motivations for risking life and limb to defeat Pompolic? Start rubbing a rabbit’s foot. Without character development, I have no investment in my character’s quest. Why should I care about his/her world falling into Pompolic’s hands? If I were an actor on set, I would turn to the director and scream, “What’s my motivation?!”
Gamer apathy will be complicated by frustrating level design that makes some levels feel like excruciating mazes with more nooks and crannies than an English muffin. The developers were kind enough to include a meter that fills as you get closer to a Dark Soul, but some of the labyrinthine levels make finding them a progressively frustrating chore. This particular frustration might have been mitigated if the game featured a map of some kind, but all you will have is the aforementioned meter.
Visually, the game falls a bit flat, with generally bland, uninspiring environments, though the engine does a nice job with real-time shadowing. Interior environments tend to look better than exteriors. My first reaction was that the game looks dated. Animations are generally on par, but there is no visual reaction to damage. For instance, you will watch your character stand stone still as he is being pounded by a 8-foot monstrosity with a mallet the size of a Maytag refrigerator and there is no animation that shows a reaction to the impact of that mallet smashing against your character’s body. You will hear the thunderous blows reigning down on you well enough, but there’s no reaction animation to the impact. The same goes for mobs that you damage.
Aurally, CfH is a different story. In fact, the audio is generally right on target with what you would expect. Sound effects are generally clear and crisp, mobs have their own distinct grunts and groans, etc. Additionally, it looks like the folks at Quotix took a minimalist approach to the soundtrack; most maps offer music that is quite subdued, sometimes eerily so, but it serves its purpose well. The game won’t rock you out, but its audio is on target with its content.
|Review Scoring Details for Call for Heroes|
Gameplay is repetitive and often frustrating due to the player being overwhelmed by large groups of enemies. The Amazon’s ranged attacked makes large groups a bit easier to handle, but the problem still remains. Trying to grab health and other pickups often results in even more enemies spawning. The array of weapons and special abilities unique to each character adds some spice; however, some of the weapons come with frustrating mechanics that cause them to drain stamina and mana for what appear to be standard attacks.
CfH features environments that are generally bland and leave something to be desired. Character and mob models are generally on par and the game engine supports sharp real-time shadows, though some maps are not as well lit as they could be.
Though the soundtrack is quite subdued in many places, it is appropriate and effective. Sound effects are generally on par with what gamers will expect.
Difficulty: Medium to Hard
Players will find the game unfairly difficult when they are occasionally overwhelmed by numerous aggressive enemies that quickly drain HP. The frustration will be compounded by the some of the labyrinthine level design and lack of a map. Additionally, the dearth of mid-level saves may cause some players to have to redo an entire level if their gaming session is interrupted.
This game really wants to be an effective, fast-paced action fantasy RPG, and it has some potential, but its promising concepts were translated into a below-average gaming experience.
The developer is planning on adding multiplayer co-op (learned from official game forum).
This is Quotix Software’s first venture into this genre of gaming, and while some interesting ideas are at work in CfH, its problematic gameplay and shallow story eclipse its potential, resulting in a budget title that is far more frustrating than fun.
Call for Heroes: Pompolic Wars is a shining example of mediocrity at its finest
Reviewer: Michael Callon
Review Date: 07/09/2007