Darkest Dungeon meets the Oregon Trail. Ok, now that I got your attention, Vagrus: The Riven Realms is a brutal RPG where you manage your caravan’s trek across an open world map, uncovering new story events, encounters, and quests. All the while, you must manage the morale of your group, ration your food and resources properly, tinker with the countless RPG stats and screens, and prepare for turn-based combat.
The game is very upfront with how little hand-holding there is, but offers a more casual mode to learn the ropes. Based on my early experiences, and reading Steam forums, it appears the game may lean a bit towards unfair if you get unlucky before you really get your footing. It looks like this is similar to the last game I reviewed, Dice Legacy, where you’re expected to stumble and die several times just to get a hold on some of the mechanics and learn from your mistakes. So, players who may have been excited by the whole Darkest Dungeon comparison, which does exist combat-wise, may have to wrestle with a lot of menu management and obtuse mechanics just to get a foothold in the game. But you do pick up some basics, and you don’t have to engage with every little detail all at once as you learn the most important aspects to leverage early on.
That being said, I really wanted to give this game the benefit of the doubt, but if I have to go through so much trouble just to learn the bare minimum to play more than like an hour without completely destroying my chances to continue, my patience rapidly starts to decline. And I appreciate the attempts to create a sandbox to learn the game yourself, but not when the game essentially tells me to just play the easier mode to get my bearings. The easier mode teaches me literally nothing on how to play the actual game, not to mention how bare bones the tutorial is and completely unrelated it feels once you hop into the game proper.
The real trouble in this game is figuring out how to manage your resources early game, and the most frustrating aspect for me is having very little ability to gauge where the next fucking landmark site is. All you see on the map are numbers that tell you how much stamina you spend to move, and that also causes the game to move at a snail’s pace. I have no indication how to improve the ability to travel more than two to three spaces at a time without having to set up camp and ration out my precious resources, else lose the game to the wrath of your slaves. The game feels like it’s doing everything in its power to make you miserable and unable to play the game. It’s really annoying trying to figure out where you should be heading, especially because supplies are so damn tight. The game doesn’t really give you room for error, even though it’s exactly what it supposedly boasts: that endless sense of experimentation. The game tells you about tasks and whatnot, and while very well-written, but otherwise fluff in terms of gameplay. Descriptions will give you SOME sense of direction, but not nearly enough. Perhaps it’s too much to ask for waypoints in a game like this, but at the very least, I should be able to do more things, like events, fight some smaller enemies, just DO cool shit with my party. Right now, I feel like I’m running headfirst into a minefield that constantly resets and just blindly replicating what not to do without actually learning anything. Needless to say, as much as the little amount of combat I did enjoy seemed interesting and cool, I never got the opportunity to fight battles I felt ready for, or to truly sink my teeth into any character customization. I really wanted to learn how to play this game, but all I was met with is frustration and anger.
I really wish I wasn’t feeling this salty about the game I, generally speaking, have never been so negatively biased towards a game. However, I think behind it all, it appears to be the shell of a very competent survival RPG, a combat-focused Sunless Skies oozing with world-building and a torrent of lore and strong character writing. The trailers look like a game I would be really into, and it’s endlessly frustrating that as much as I wanted to learn the ropes, I felt very little motivation to drudge through the unrelenting early game. I shouldn’t have to play twenty plus hours just to finally get to the meat and potatoes of the game. I was just never hooked into playing the game. If anything it was the opposite: the more I tried to play, the less I wanted to continue. So with all that out of the way, I do think that there is a hardcore audience that will appreciate this game, and perhaps watching playthroughs or reading guides will help jump the gap for you. But for me, I resent being forced to do anything outside the game, like reading a wiki, using a guide, etc., just to make even the tiniest bit of progress. I’m so sorry to fans of this game, but this may be my most scathing review I’ve had the misfortune to write.
A copy of the game was provided by the devs.
Hellfirebam has not awarded Vagrus: The Riven Realms the Indie Gamer Seal of Approval